Saturday, November 3, 2012

Windows 8 – Seventh Pass: The Surface Tablet

For many reasons I’m very interested in the new Surface tablet from Microsoft – that runs Windows 8. This device could perhaps be my dream device. A tablet that can do everything my laptop can do and allows me to dock it at work and at home to use my peripherals but also travel with all my stuff without the need to carry a bulky laptop.

Early reviews are good but the sequence Microsoft is using to deploy the Surface seems to be derailing a bit of the momentum.

The Surface you can by now is the RT version, or Run Time version. This runs on a processor that requires applications to be specifically designed for it. Microsoft says their App Store now has 50,000 apps that will run on the Surface RT. While that may appear to be good news, it really isn’t. For me the issue is can it do everything my laptop can do?

The RT version may have some apps but it is missing several key things. It can’t run Office right now, there is no RT version. You can get to your Exchange mail using the Mail app for the Start Screen but it isn’t Outlook. While there is a version of One Note that works well on the Start Screen it won’t run the current desktop version. It also can’t run Photoshop.

For some this isn’t a deal breaker but in order to replace my laptop it needs to do what my laptop can do. The bad news is right now it can’t, the good news is in January they will release a version that can. The January version, called the Surface Pro, runs on an Intel chip and can do everything Windows 8 on a desktop or laptop can do. The challenge will be whether or not it is powerful enough to pull that off in ways that doesn't make me miss my laptop.

I’ve talked with several developers and others using the Surface RT and they like it. I’m sure for some it will work fine, but for me, in order to replace my laptop and iPad it has to do everything they can do and then some. Will the lack of a Retina display be noticeable? Will it be fast enough? Will the touch keyboard cover be an adequate replacement for my laptop keyboard? Will there be wireless accessories for it?

If the stars align, it may just be the ticket and may just be the only way Windows 8 can show some relevance. If so then Microsoft just has to convince everyone that doesn’t own a Surface that designing Windows 8 around the Surface doesn’t hinder it being used effectively on your current laptop or desktop.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Windows 8 – Sixth Pass: Lenovo T400 Fixes

At long last, I have finally been able to resolve some odd Windows 8 hardware compatibility issues with my Lenovo T400 laptop and Windows 8. I’m not sure if these are related to Windows 8 finally being available to the public or not.

A good bit of internet research revealed that for legacy hardware, like a T400, your best bet is not to use the general Windows 8 drivers come with the OS but rather to revert back to the latest version of the driver for Windows 7.

As I’ve posted here, I’ve been having problems with my display. Areas of the screen will at time fuzz out and become unreadable and I have to refresh the display to solve the issue. I’ve also had issues with my ATI Radeon Mobile 3400 chip overheating. My T400 has switchable graphics and in order to avoid the overheating problem I only used the Intel Mobile Series 4 chipset graphics driver. This created the fuzz out problems. Both of these graphics chips were using the built in Windows 8 WDDM 1.1 drivers.

Lenovo’s website has not been very helpful in terms of Windows 8 so I manually downloaded the latest Windows 7 switchable graphics driver. I installed it and then manually updated each graphics card driver using the Device Manager to the Windows 7 driver.

Presto – success! Not only did it solve my overheating problem but also my switchable graphics is working again and there are no more areas of fuzz out making my computer very difficult to use.

Through a bit more research, I discovered the Lenovo System Update utility has finally been updated and released for Windows 8. I installed it but it didn’t find any updates for my computer. Again, as this is legacy hardware there probably won’t be many drivers released specifically for Windows 8. As such, the Windows 7 drivers are the way to go. I did find it interesting that it didn’t find an update for my touchpad through the tool but I found an update for it manually on the Lenovo drivers list for the T400.

Another problem I had was with the wireless network indicator light. After the Windows 8 upgrade the light was on when the wireless was on and off when it was off. With Windows 7, it would flash to indicate activity. Reinstalling the latest Windows 7 driver, downloaded manually, also fixed that problem.

I’ve been running Windows 8 since mid-August and I’m just now starting to feel as though my laptop can be productive once again.