Category: Computers

Toshiba Satellite Z830-10T Ultrabook Review

Posted by – July 23, 2013

Toshiba Satellite Z830-10T

If you’ve seen any of my previous posts on here about netbooks/laptops etc, I much prefer the idea of a compact laptop with low power processors and decent specifications, rather than a powerful or top-end “netbook”. There seems a lot of cross-over, but my ideal laptop is actually called an “ultrabook” – most cost over £800 new, but a number of recent models, such as the Samsung Series 5 NP530 are available for around £500 new.

The Toshiba Satellite z830-10T is an ultra book that was launched a couple of years ago in late 2011 – a similar age to my Alienware M11x – and had a price of around £800. But is now available second hand for around £250, from ebay, which is where I got mine from. (I also didn’t want a brand new laptop, as I prefer Windows 7 to 8). The Toshiba Satellite Z830 has been replaced by the Toshiba Satellite Z930 (Amazon).

The Toshiba Satellite Z830-10T in a nutshell:

It has an Intel i3 1.4ghz dual core processor, 4gb of RAM (you can upgrade to 6Gb by replacing the 2gb DDR3 stick with a 4gb DDR3 stick for around £30!), 128gb SSD (which the Samsung Series 5 NP530 doesn’t feature), a 13.3″ matt screen, and a backlit keyboard. It’s thin, really thin, and really light at 1.1kg. It also promises around 8hours of battery life, however this will vary greatly on how much you use some of the more intensive battery drains, such as a bright screen, and the backlit keyboard.

Things that are important to me in a laptop: Screen. Keyboard. Battery life. Noise (and speakers). Performance. Size and weight. Warranty*.

So starting with the screen: It’s a 13.3inch screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution. So pretty standard for a small <14″ laptop. The screen is thin / slightly flexible / although it doesn’t seem as flimsy as the previous ultra compact laptop I tried, the Toshiba Portege R500. Viewing angles are better than I was expecting after reading some reviews of the Z830T. Also better than the Toshiba R500.

Toshiba Satellite Z830 Keyboard Lights

The keyboard: It’s backlit, when the lights are switched on, however you can’t see the function labels – as just the letters glow. It can be set to switch on for 15 seconds, then automatically time out when you don’t use the keyboard for 15seconds. I managed 61wpm with 1 mistake on an online typing speed test. The touchpad has a button above it so you can switch it off and on.

Battery lifeThis site says they got 7 hours from it. But how will it perform now that the laptop is over a year old?* It seems to get around 5 to 6 hours but you will get better or worse battery life depending on how bright you have the screen and what you are doing with it. There is a Toshiba Eco Utility app, this will bring power usage down to 7-11w by dimming the screen, keyboard and other things.

Noise: When the fan is off, the laptop is silent. Watching iPlayer for 20+ minutes fullscreen didn’t cause the fan to start. However, there are times when the fan does kick in, particularly in the summer, and it can get quite loud. There are a large number of seemingly unnecessary Toshiba apps that like to auto start and live in the taskbar next to the clock.

Speakers: Stereo speakers and “Dolby Advanced Audio” – at 50, playing iPlayer it’s loud enough for watching in the living room. (The screen is also bright enough and viewing angles are pretty decent). CPU usage was around 14-21% running iPlayer.

Toshiba Satellite Z830 Touchpad

Performance: Windows 7 (64bit) scores: Processor: 5.2, RAM (DDR3): 5.9, Graphics: 5.4, Gaming graphics: 6.1, Hard drive (SSD): 6.6.

Size and weight: This has become increasingly important for me, as I’ve traveled to various countries, and regularly traveled across Britain, with numerous trips down to London. This has made the Alienware M11x seem like a rather fat, chunky, and HEAVY laptop, making a rucksack/backpack feel very heavy for walking around, or just getting from one part of London to another on the tube.

Toshiba Satellite Z830 USB3

It’s thin, really thin… and doesn’t weigh much at all, just over 1Kg , this makes it fit neatly into you bag without adding too much weight.

W x D x H : 316.0 x 227.0 x 8.3 (front) / 15.9 (rear) mm
Weight : starting at 1.12 kg (does it weigh more if you put more ram in or a larger hard drive? or put stickers on it?)

Warranty: *On checking the Toshiba warranty information, the laptop shipped Mar 2013, so is around 15 months old, and came with a 1yr warranty. Which is debatable, as all products shipped in the UK/European union should be fit for purpose, with companies such as Dell now providing as standard a 2yr consumer warranty (but not for business purchases, go figure).

Other stuff that I like: USB3.0 port. SD card slot (essential). HDMI port, and two standard USB ports at the back.

Overall: The Toshiba Satellite Z830-10T is a stylish, compact laptop, with good performance, and it doesn’t weigh much or compromise too much on features or design. The matt screen is so much more pleasant to use than a reflective gloss screen, and a backlit keyboard is extremely useful in dim lit environments. The speakers are very good, the keyboard is quite good to type on and perhaps the biggest complaint I would have is the noise of the fan when it does kick in. However, for the price it is available for second hand, it is an excellent buy.

Full Toshiba Satellite Z830-10T specifications. (Toshiba)

Alienware M11x (Dell) Ultra Compact Laptop Review

Posted by – June 7, 2011

It’s a tiny laptop with an 11.6 inch screen, ultra low power CPU, and a monster Nvidia graphics card. It has 4gb of ram (DDR3), a 500gb hard drive (7200rpm, Seagate), and no optical drive. It’s got cool colours too, like a light up alien on the back of the monitor, a glowing alienware logo, an alien head power button, a glowing keyboard and bright glowing speaker holes at the front of the laptop.

The keyboard is almost exactly the same size as a full size laptop but touch typing is a little more difficult at the keys are flatter than normal and the gap in-between the keys doesn’t seem as large.

Dell Alienware M11x

Alienware M11x - Reflective Screen

It’s got one of those gloss reflective screens – and it’s MASSIVELY reflective. If you are running on the battery then the default brightness is so low you only see yourself staring back at you, and you have to turn the brightness up. It seems much more reflective (read: worse) than the gloss screen on the Samsung Q430 that I recently had. The blacks aren’t very black, there seems to be a lot of “backlight bleed” with the whole screen looking mostly grey. The default black wallpaper doesn’t give a good first impression of the screen – as all you can see is yourself in the reflection. (If I wanted to see myself I would have bought a mirror!)

Also it’s LOUD – after running the Windows Experience index two times, the fan in the laptop stayed on for a long time … and has not yet shut up, despite CPU usage hovering around 10% while I’m typing this. You can overclock the processor in the Dell BIOS – the options are Overclock : Enable, and Disable (which is the default).

Alienware Lights

Alienware Lights

The speakers built into the laptop seem very good. 50% volume is too loud for close use. The volume of iPlayer for example can easily be set to be louder than the volume of the fan, however it’s not very silent – and doesn’t tend to stay silent when watching.

The default speed is 1.3ghz, you can overclock the laptop in the BIOS, see here, for the scores and much more information about the laptop. Boosts CPU / RAM score from 4.1 / 4.8 to 4.6 / 5.4. GFX for both desktop and 3D is 6.5 and disk score 5.9. I think you can even turn down the performance of the GFX – perhaps this would make the laptop quieter?

Windows Experience Scores: M11x: CPU: 4.1 RAM: 4.8 GFX: 6.4 3D GFX: 6.4  HDD: 5.9 (Nvidia, CPU 1.3ghz)
Windows Experience Scores: Q430: CPU: 6.3 RAM: 5.9 GFX:4.9 3D GFX: 5.9 HDD: 5.9
Windows Experience Scores: 1510:  CPU: 4.8 RAM: 4.8 GFX: 3.5 3D GFX: 3.5  HDD: 5.1
Windows Experience Scores: R500:  CPU: 2.8 RAM: 4.2 GFX: 2.2 3D GFX: 3.0 HDD: 5.1

Yes – you can switch between graphics cards the NVidia GeForce graphics, or the “discrete” built in graphics – using FN + F6 – the built in graphics being “Mobile Intel 4 Series Express Chipset” / “Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD” with 64mb dedicated memory.

GeForce GT 335M – dedicated video memory 1024mb – switching between the modes is quite quick although if the graphics processor is in use, it asks you to close the program before it will switch. There is a slight degradation of image quality when switching to the Intel graphics – and it’s noticeable on the external display more than the internal laptop screen (Seiko / Epson Laptop Display) – for example on an external 22inch screen. The text isn’t as crisp, but the display is quite stable.

Using the Intel graphics seems to keep the laptop quiet(er). Watching iplayer even – (the laptop CPU usage averages around 29%) – the laptop settles down to a nice quiet purr. There is still a fan running, but it’s nice to see that there’s a quiet mode as well.

More on the screen – it’s very fingerprint prone – so not only is it super reflective, you also need to make sure you don’t touch it. It also has a large border and dare I say it, it looks kind of 90s – like Star Trek The Next Generation – trying to be futuristic but in reality looking kind of dated. (More to be added…)

+ Good value for money now that Dell are offering it for £498
+ Switchable between Intel gfx (quiet, low power), or Nvidia (loud, good for games)
+ Overclock friendly – need more speed, switch it on in the BIOS
+ Built in SIM card slot! (Firewire, PATA)
+ Metal bottom to laptop, alienware fabric sleeve
+ Excellent battery life

– Can be really loud when using Nvidia graphics
– Not entirely convinced by the keyboard (yet)
– Reflective gloss screen (although it’s less reflective with a brighter wallpaper)
– SD / Memory cards stick out when in the reader
– Keyboard marks the screen when the laptop is closed

Scanning 35mm Negatives – Methods Compared

Posted by – May 17, 2011

After receiving my Epson Perfection 2400 Photo in 2003 I started scanning my negatives. It soon became obvious that scanning all negatives at a quality suitable for large prints would take too long, so I completed the remaining negatives at a resolution suitable for printing reference contact sheets. I would scan selected images at a higher resolution for printing, but after a while, that fell by the way due to the time it was taking. A quicker method had to be found. A number of small scanners which are basically a camera / light box combination are now available, (promising scans in a matter of seconds) which have caused me to re-evaluate the practicality of re-scanning some of my more interesting negatives. I have compared scans using the 5MP Maplin Compact Film and Slide Scanner and 5MP Aldi Traveller scanner.

Klick Image002_0A

Klick Image002_0A

Epson Klick size

Epson Klick size

Epson Klick size sharp

Epson Klick size sharp

The following is not intended as a review of the mentioned scan methods, but for comparative purposes and is published in hindsight. I include images scanned by Klick when the film was first processed. The Klick images are to be viewed as a reference to basic commercial scanning service capabilities. The Maplin and Aldi images were scanned at 1680 x 2550 dpi in Tiff format and converted to jpeg maintaining their resolution. The Klick image has been upscaled from 1024 x 1536 to 1700 x 2550. To compare the results, I use FastStone Image viewer, as it allows up to 4 images to be simultaneously displayed and scrolled. Comparing the banners in the portrait images reveal sharpening in the Klick image and flaring in the Aldi and Maplin scans. The Epson scan did not bring out much extra detail, and on closer inspection I decided that the negative was not that sharp to start with.

Klick Image020_18A cs5 enlarged

Klick Image020_18A cs5 enlarged

Aldi 2011-05-02_22

Aldi 2011-05-02_22

Epson Match Unsharp

Epson Match Unsharp

The landscape images are the outcome of scanning a sharper negative on the same film. The image ‘Epson Klick size’ was scanned at 1200 dpi, (a comparable resolution to the Klick image) and saved without modification as a jpeg. The ‘Epson Klick size sharp’ is the same image and has been auto coloured and sharpened. Sharpening in the Klick image is again obvious, but the tonal range in the Epson scan provides a more pleasing result. The Epson will scan up to 2400 dpi without interpolation, and provides a great deal of control over the final appearance of the image. As yet I have not found a quick scanner that complements the capabilities of my Epson.

Maplin 2010-12-26_10

Maplin 2010-12-26_10

The Maplin scanner was returned, as the calibration process did not eliminate the vignetting that the back light produced (see bottom left of Maplin scan). The Aldi scanner was returned as it was not equal to my existing Epson scanning capabilities.

Aldi Traveller – Digital Film Scanner:

Maplin 5MP Compact Film and Slide Scanner:

Samsung Q430 Laptop Review… Half Netbook?

Posted by – May 13, 2011

Samsung Q430 Logos

Not as large as a 15.6″ laptop, and not as small as a netbook, but slightly larger than 13.3″ laptops, the Samsung Q430 offers everything you’d get with a laptop, but comes in at a netbook similar price, has a battery life approaching a netbook, and is lighter than your standard laptop. What else does it feature to make it stand out? Well compared to it’s smaller brother, the Q330, the Q430 features a dedicated Nvidia Geforce (Cuda) graphics with it’s own 512mb memory. See below for it’s key features:

Samsung Q430 Features:
– Intel Core i3 350 2.26ghz CPU (dual core with hyperthreading – enabling 4 cpus)
– 4GB RAM (DDR3 – 3.86gb available)
– 320gb HD
– 14 inch 1366×768 16:9 screen with LED backlight (gloss – boo!*)
– DVDrw/CDrw
– NVidia Geforce 310m 512mb GFX
– 2.1kg
– Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
– Built in webcam, SD card reader, HDMI out, 3 USB sockets, ethernet, wifi etc

Samsung Q430 On

First switch on – easy enough, quick to go through the Windows setup process, entering the laptop name, wifi connection etc, then “Samsung Software Installing” takes over… and 20 minutes later you’ll still be waiting for it to finish installing… what I do not know (yet). But it’s probably stuff you don’t want clogging up your laptop… this is a somewhat frustrating start, as it doesn’t tell you what it’s installing or give you any explanation or choice regarding whether you want it or not.

Trackpad, buttoins, and LEDs

Part of this is to ask you to partition your hard drive (I went for default settings, 160/120gb for C and D or something similar). Then after about 30 minutes in total you end up on a nice shiny blue Windows desktop. IE8 comes pre-installed, and comes with mcafee site advisor / mcafee security centre, google toolbar, already installed and active.


Design: Latch-less shiny black lid. Silver inside. Quite rattley plastic silver, textured to appear as metal, but you can tell it’s not. The keyboard looks neat with square black keys much like an Apple laptop, or Sony Vaio. There’s also an extra row on the very right hand side with Del, Home, PgUp, PgDown, End which should make it easier to access compared my current laptop (a Dell Vostro 1510), and the \ and / slash keys are in the correct place (unlike my current Vostro!). There are not really any dedicated volume controls apart from the FN + Left/Right buttons, on the keyboard. The trackpad’s mouse buttons are good with little travel and a re-assuringly responsive click.

samsung q430 windows-experience-index

Windows score: (Windows Experience Index)
Overall: 4.9, CPU: 6.3, RAM: 5.9, Graphics (Desktop): 4.9, Graphics (Gaming): 5.9, HDD: 5.9

Idle volume: the idle volume of the laptop is quite noticeable – there is a constant fan noise even when the CPU is doing very little. The Vostro 1510 on the other hand is silent unless under quite heavy load.

Samsung Q430 Volume Controls

Samsung Q430 Volume Controls

The keyboard is really quite good and takes very little time to get used to so that you can quickly start touch typing on the laptop. Although the wrist rest area is a little small, as the keyboard is not as far back as some other laptops, the keyboard is still quite comfortable to type on.

Samsung Q430 Side Ports

Samsung Q430 Side Ports

Screen: gloss is bad for reflections, when looking at a black background you’ll either see a reflection of yourself or lights or other (terrible outdoors in the sun for example), however, the black is often very black and the gloss finish makes photos look very colourful, rich, saturated, etc, almost like a high quality photo print. The optimal viewing angles for the screen aren’t great, although when you do angle it correctly the blacks are very black, angle it wrong and you get what looks like backlight bleed. The screen is also quite low, so long periods of looking at the screen with your head bent down may not be the best for you.

Samsung Q430 DVD Drive

Samsung Q430 DVD Drive

Flickering VGA output? using the VGA cable connected to an external monitor, the screen / image seems to wobble / flicker… fault or just a design / quality flaw – is this something they all do?? It’s worse when you are using the mouse, so could be power related, however, if the cheaper Vostro 1510 doesn’t do this, then a more expensive machine shouldn’t do this!

Battery life – Fully charged, Windows says the battery should last 3 hours.

As someone who uses an external monitor when using the laptop on a desk, I find the flickering of the external display really quite disappointing. (Something a budget Vostro 1510 doesn’t suffer from) Likewise, after using the virtually silent Vostro 1510 (the only noise you hear most of the time is the hard drive accessing), I find the default / idle noise of the Samsung Q430 disappointing. The first issue seems like it may be a fault, the second, seems like a design or configuration flaw. I don’t know whether I can learn to live with these issues… 🙁 (I’m wondering whether I would have been better off with the Intel graphics based Q330… even though it has a smaller screen…)

+ 14inch screen / compact size
+ Good keyboard – good layout, and easy to touchtype
+ Good spec for the price

– Flickering VGA output
– Loud fan (even when CPU idle)
– Would be nice to have a slot loading drive
– unimpressed by the memory card reader – easily loses contact

Kensington Orbit Optical Trackball with Scroll Wheel

Posted by – September 18, 2010

The Kensington Orbit Optical Trackball with Scroll Wheel is, rather surprisingly, one of only a few trackballs with a built in scroll wheel / scroll ring. Most other, if not, all other, trackballs simply do not give you the ability to scroll through web pages and documents. The Logitech Marble Mouse (£24), which is (was?) my personal favourite has 2 additional buttons that allow you to go forwards and backwards through web pages, and others have more buttons, but a scroll wheel? No* (It comes from a time when mice didn’t always feature scroll wheels, and it seems to have taken a long time for trackballs to have caught onto the idea!). Thus when I saw the Kensington for sale at Best Buy UK, for £21, and cheaper than the internet, I simply had to try it. (* Yes, I realise others have scroll wheels, but I’m not a fan of thumb controlled trackballs, nor expensive trackballs)


Samsung Galaxy Tab – 7″ Android Tablet

Posted by – August 25, 2010

Text contained: Augmented reality, Video call, Navigation, PC Link Web?, HD Movie play, E-reading, Flash Support, 7″ screen, September 2nd, Berlin, Germany, Shown: Camera with LED flash, Email, Swype, Google maps, Calendar, Chat support, more?

So basically everything Android 2.2 does, but with a big 7″ screen?

Dell Streak Review (Phones)

Posted by – August 21, 2010

I’ve had the Dell Streak for a couple of weeks now so the review is not an unboxing.

Here is how it looks:

I’ve read a lot about the Streak online and it tends to be the same everywhere. Those who’ve never seen it don’t get it, those who see it like it, those who own it are always being asked about it.

For a phone it’s big, almost comedy size, but despite the ability to make calls on it the Streak is sold as a tablet. The interface is set up in landscape mode and you can buy a data-only tariff.  I bought it  outright and got a 30 day rolling data contract. Other options are available, including 18/24 month deals or SIM free from Dell. Keep reading below…


Kensington SlimBlade Trackball – £84 of Mouse (Computers)

Posted by – December 18, 2009

The Kensington SlimBlade Trackball may be the suitable for people with expensive RSI (Repetitive Strain Injuries) priced at £84 from Amazon UK. More details at Engadget, pic via SlipperyBrick.

Samsung SyncMaster T220 Widescreen 22" 16:10 TFT Monitor Review (Computers)

Posted by – November 7, 2009

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Samsung T220 22-inch Widescreen LCD TFT Monitor, 2ms Response Time, Rose Black, 20000:1 Contrast Ratio DVI / VGA

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Why buy one? (or two) It’s one of the cheapest 22″ TFT monitors available with both DVI and VGA (most of the cheaper ones only have VGA) – and you want DVI for the highest picture quality possible. It doesn’t have HDMI input or speakers – but you’ll probably need to spend another £30 or £40 if you want these features (see the Samsung SyncMaster 2494HS or newer for these features).

Samsung SyncMaster T220

It’s got 84 reviews on Amazon UK, with an overall score of 4.5 / 5, even by Amazon standards – that’s pretty high! There’s more reviews on where the overall score is 5/5! Plus it’s only £129 from Amazon UK inc vat and free postage!

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Specs and Features:
Ports: VGA / DVI / Power
Speakers: No
Touch buttons: 1 for power only
Real buttons: Yes, on the side: Menu, Brightness, Up / Down, Source, Auto
Power light: Red (fades in and out heartbeat style when in power saving)
Warranty: 3 year warranty as standard
Panel: TN TFT Active Matrix, Dot Pitch / Pixel Pitch: 0.282 mm
Image Brightness 300 cd/m2
Image Contrast Ratio 20000:1 (dynamic)
Response Time 2 ms
Power AC 120/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )
Power Consumption Operational 45 Watt
Environmental Standards EPA Energy Star , EPEAT Silver
Display Positions Adjustments Tilt
Low Power Consumption (0.3W Power Off, Energy Saving Mode)
Contrast Ratio: DC 20,000:1(1000:1)(Typ.)
Resolution: 1680×1050 (WSXGA+)
Response Time: 2ms (GTG)
Viewing Angle (Horizontal/Vertical): 170˚/160˚ (CR>10)

Samsung SyncMaster T220 Pixels

Dead pixels? No. Check yours with DeadPixelBuddy, but you do get a very nice screen cleaning cloth with the monitor.

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Screen finish: Matte – this means very low reflection, and even on bright days the screen is bright and easily viewable.

Samsung SyncMaster T220 Quality

Quality: Crisp – pixels are very crisp, sharp, clear. Colour appears to be very good, bright colourful, not TOO bright, not luminous. Black appears to be good. Will check colour performance more fully when I calibrate the monitor. After calibration – there was little difference – the pre-calibrated image was perhaps a little too bright, with a slightly magenta / blue cast.

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Looks: Did I mention it looks AWESOME? Has a very stylish glass effect surround – that’s perhaps a bit too reflective – but looks very cool.

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Tilting base. The screens a bit wobbly – not sure why? It’s like the metal plate doesn’t clip in properly into the monitor. Seems a shame that this is not more sturdy.

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Energy saving – the labelling on the monitor is quite subtle and barely noticeable in dim lighting. The monitor comes with all needed cables: power, VGA, and DVI.

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Back – things it says on the box: “Samsung Design that performs, 20000:1 Dynamic Contrast, Vivid Moving Picture. 2ms Fast Response Time. 0.3W softPower OFF, lowest Stand by Power.” and “SyncMaster T220 22″ Wide TFT – LCD Monitor, Up to 1680 x 1050 (WSXGA+) Windows Vista Premium Certification”

Samsung SyncMaster T220

Neat cable cover clips onto the back. Really there is very little to dislike about this monitor – maybe speakers would be nice to have – but it would add to the price, and you get better sound quality from headphones or dedicated speakers anyway. It’s a great monitor, at a great price. Highly Recommended!

Excellent price
Video Playback looks great
All cables included
Screen cleaning cloth included – nice unexpected bonus
Very good colour
Very good image quality
Looks very good / stylish
Good viewing angle
No dead pixels

Wobbly base

Only £129 from Amazon UK inc vat and free postage!
View larger pictures and photos of the Samsung SyncMaster T220 in the Gallery

Samsung SyncMaster T220 (Left) next to Samsung SyncMaster 2494HS (Right):

Picasa 3.5 Free Download with Face Recognition

Posted by – October 11, 2009

Picasa 3.5Picasa 3.5 has added Face Recognition to the latest version of the popular free image editing and uploading software. The face recognition will let you tag your friends, and then find all other images with similar looking people ready for you to confirm the label. So it looks like you don’t have to buy iPhoto and a Mac after all.

Picasa 3.5

“Add name tags – Picasa 3.5 scans all the photos in your collection, identifies the ones with faces, and groups photos with similar faces together. It’s easy to add name tags to dozens of photos at once by clicking “Add a name” below a photo and typing the person’s name. Once you’ve tagged some pictures, you can make a face collage with one click, easily find all your pictures with the same two people in them, or upload your name tags to Picasa Web Albums.”

More information on Picasa name tagging here.