Review of the new Intel NUC (Broadwell)

Intel NUC
It’s only about 1/3 larger than my raspberry Pi, which you can see behind t he NUC

I finally broke down and bought the new Intel NUC with an i5 Broadwell CPU. I slapped in a 8GB of Ram and a 256GB SSD, loaded Ubuntu Desktop onto the tiny little thing (it’s even smaller than the smallest of last generation’s NUCs) and have been working on it as my main office PC for the last few weeks.

One of the first things I noticed is that the WiFi/Bluetooth radios are now built-in to the diminutive motherboard. It’s no longer required to buy and install an add-on board for that functionality. Installing the SSD and RAM was easy and straight-forward. All you need is a Phillip’s head screwdriver to remove the 4 screws that hold the cover in place.

Installing Ubuntu 15.04 from a USB drive was trivial, the EFI boot-loader found the USB drive during boot-up and the installation went flawlessly. The SSD really shines in these tiny machines and installation was done in a couple of minutes. All the hardware was identified correctly by Ubuntu and just worked. Configuring my favorite Bluetooth keyboard and mouse on the little machine was a piece of cake.

One of my favorite things about this machine is that it makes no noise at all. Even though I’m pretty sure there is a fan in there somewhere, you really can’t hear it. However, you can feel the warm air blowing from the vents when you are taxing the processor with 3D games or compressing video. When you push the processor with demanding software, the top of the machine gets noticeably warm but by no means hot enough to burn or injure you.

As a desktop computer, it’s very capable. The i5 is snappy. Ubuntu never feels sluggish no matter what software you’re running on it. I have even watched NBA.TV in full-screen mode in high definition mode with not even a stutter. As for 3D games, it’s surprising how well the little machine handles. You can get decent gaming performance out of the integrated Intel HD 6000 series graphics. It’s never fair to compare integrated graphics to discrete graphics cards from Nvidia or AMD, however the little chip handles surprisingly well letting you play your favorite games (never at best quality settings) but at least at playable settings.

World of Warcraft in Windows 10 preview works really great as well.

So, what is my verdict? Get ONE! They are awesome little machines. They boot up and shut down surprisingly fast, letting you get to work immediately. They’re super quiet and tiny, making it an ideal machine for KODI or Media Center functions in your living room. If you don’t mind not having the best looking graphic effects, you could even turn this little machine into a capable Steam Box gaming machine connected to your television.

Windows and Ubuntu both run really well, but I’m partial to Ubuntu on this hardware because I can’t justify paying for a Windows licence when I can do everything I need to do in Ubuntu with a great user-experience for free. The bare bones machine, plus the SSD and the 8GB of ram ended up costing me $526.67 on Amazon. I already had a keyboard, mouse, monitor and speakers to use with the machine, so I didn’t need to spend anything extra for that.

If you’re looking for a new computer, you should seriously consider one of these little beasts, you will won’t be disappointed. It has turned into my preferred office desktop very quickly.

Latin Tech Talk is back

 

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Trying to revive an almost extinct show. Latin Tech Talk was a show where we would talk bout technology and how it affected Latin American businesses and society. In it’s new incarnation, we’re trying to keep as much of the original show as possible, but are focusing mostly on the differences in each of the countries. We’re still ironing out the wrinkles, but our first episode in since the reboot can be found at www.latintechtalk.com

Mark Hunter from Pump Up the Volume would have loved this!

PumpUpTheVolumeI just found about this project to turn your Raspberry Pi into an FM transmitter by tricking the hardware that is used to send spread-spectrum clock signals through the GPIO pins into sending out FM Radio energy. In short, with this software and a piece of wire connected to a GPIO pin, you can broadcast an FM signal to nearby radios. Running your own pirate radio station has never been easier… of course the signal will not travel very far without amplification… but if you do amplify it chances are you’ll be interfering with all sorts of radios signals, which is a nono, and can get you into serious trouble.

On the upside, if you’re a horny teenager, you could also meet the love of your life, free your school from a totalitarian principal and become the hero of an entire generation as you get dragged off to jail. At least that’s what happened in the movie (spoiler alert).

Some thoughts about Windows 10

SanyoMBC550SystemEver since I started using computers, Microsoft has been around. After ditching my Commodore VIC-20 for a Sanyo MBC-550, which was an almost IBM PC compatible computer that came with Microsoft DOS 2.11 and a BASIC interpreter that Microsoft had made for Sanyo, I have been a Microsoft customer.

Even after switching my work computers to Linux and later buying a MacBook as my main work machine, I still keep around a kick-ass Windows machine in my den where I record my podcasts and play my favourite games. Because I like to play games quite a bit, that machine tends to be the most powerful machine I own: best graphics board, most processor cores, biggest hard drives, etc., but not the latest Operating System. No, not the OS, that machine is still running Windows 7 which, in my mind, is the best Windows that Microsoft has released.

74613_fig1Windows 8 is a mess. It resembles a kid that does not know what it wants to be when it grows up. It tries to force a bunch of paradigm changes that don’t make any sense for traditional keyboard and mouse desktops. You know the famous business/hockey saying that “a company should not focus on where the puck is, but rather on where the puck is going to be”? Well, I think Microsoft has the right idea that more personal/mobile touch devices will start to replace desktops in the future. The problem is that that future is still quite a ways off. And the hardware to make people move from their desktops to this new mobile, touch and speech aware interface is still not up to the task.

The timing thing is the main problem for Microsoft. I have no doubts that Intel processors will eventually get cheap enough and efficient enough to rival ARM processors in power consumption, and still have the oomph and the compatibility that they have today. So unifying the code base is a good idea, which is why I think Windows 10 is a step in the right direction.

Windows-10What I like very much about Windows 10 is that they decided to go back to splitting the user interfaces into desktop-mode and tablet-mode. When you’re on a desktop computer you expect the machine to behave in a certain way, and Windows 10 behaves just like Windows 7 did, did I mention that I think Windows 7 is the best Windows they ever released, except that they have changed the graphical interface to make it flatter and up-to-date with the latest design trends. It’s actually very attractive.

If you’re on a tablet, well you can configure it to use the touch-centric interface that Windows 8 tried to shove down everyone’s throats, with a few new tweaks. Honestly I don’t have a Windows tablet device so I have not tried the interface out, and as I have said, since the hardware is not really up to par to the experience, I probably won’t be getting one in the near future.

So, what do I think of Windows 10? Well, I think it looks nice, and behaves like Windows 7. Could Microsoft have gotten away with just modernising the default Windows 7 theme and rebranding it as Windows 10? Probably not, since Windows 10 includes the software store, and the tablet-mode environment that will leave the door open for the future when tablet hardware is finally good enough! freeAll in all, I think Windows 10 will be good for Microsoft and good for the Industry. Now let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope Microsoft will make it affordable: $20.00 for new machines or free for upgrades is what I’m hoping for!

Am I a coffee snob now?

Sometimes the best coffee is the one that’s closest to where you need to be. I’m having an espresso at a little place that I had stopped coming to because they only serve on paper cups, which to me is like drinking wine from a paper cone… it not only diminishes the experience, but also changes the taste (at least in my mind it does). The only reason I’m here today is that it’s the closet place to where I need to be.

So… what can I say… I’m trying to get my mind to erase the fact that I’m drinking from a paper cup. The coffee itself is pretty tasty, I wonder how much better it would be from a proper ceramic mug. Am I a coffee snob now?

Luckily for the shop owner, the place seems to always be full. So maybe I’m the only one that’s irked by the paper-cup thing.

The race for the Chromebook market is on

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Microsoft, it seems, is ready to start a war for the nacent Chromebook market. The Verge reports that there is rumours of a sub $200 laptop (basically the same design that HP uses for their Chromebooks) but running Windows 8 and using Microsoft OneDrive  for cloud storage. No release date yet.

At that price, Microsoft must be willing to “give away” their Operating System in exchange for OneDrive customers. If it works for Google, can it also work for Microsoft?  Also, how much is HP getting out of this deal, seems like there not much margin to around for everyone, does it?

XBMC changes name to Kodi

kodi-splash-600x336I heard the news today that our beloved XBMC, a program that any geek worth his salt has installed on his pc, laptop, Raspberry Pi, AppleTV, or Media Center PC has changed its name to Kodi. Apparently the switch responds to a couple of issues:

  1. The original name made reference to Xbox, a platform which is not really supported anymore by the software, and also made reference to Media Center, which the software has now outgrown as plugins have turned it into a more open entertainment platform.
  2. Kodi is a name which can be registered as a trademark and defended in case somebody tries to steal it or sue over the rights.

It’s going to be a weird getting used to the new name, but I can understand why they’re changing the name. I’m happy the project is still strong and being actively developed on so many different platforms. I use it daily at work and at home.

Read the official XBMC post about the name change here.

Sierra could be coming back

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For those of us who were fans of King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Hero’s Quest, here are some great news. The Verge has just reported that  Activision has readied a 13 second video of Sierra (the kind that you are forced to watch right before you start playing the game) for Gamescon in Germany. This could mean that Sierra could be making a comeback with some modern tech adventure games. I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed.