EEStor Permittivity Testing: It’s a Pass!

Good old EEStor released a third-party verification of the permittivity of their insulating material – the verdict? It’s a pass and expectations have been met from -20 degrees celcius to 65C. Sorry, I know I’m here partying all on my own, so let me back track a bit and give a bit of background on this…

EEStor Cell

As most are probably already aware, batteries have always plagued the electric vehicle for a mass of reasons: they don’t offer sufficient range, are too heavy, too costly, too big, don’t discharge fast enough, don’t charge fast enough and performance degrades over time. Yeah, that’s a big list of flaws and so many may be surprised that I’m a big proponent of the development of electric vehicles. One of the reasons is because of a lot of the cool technologies on the horizon such as the EEstor EESU (Electrical Energy Storage Unit). EEStor wants to pack 52KWh of energy in these things in a small package weighing in at around 300 pounds. To give you an idea of how much energy that is, most of you can probably power your houses for a full day and the more energy concious among you for a couple of days.

Now, the reason that this is such a breakthrough is because how much energy a capacitor can store is modeled by the following equation:

energy = ( capacitance x voltage ^ 2 ) / 2

What does this mean to your life? Basically that if we can increase voltage in a capacitor, we get exponential gains in how much energy we are storing. To get those really high voltages, we need to be able to place conductive plates really close together with an excellent insulator in between. The real breakthrough is in this insulating material as the permittivity testing shows that we EEStor has created a material which is hugely better than previous known materials. The independent lab verification is a huge step forward since the company has never been forthcoming about anything they do. In fact, I’d almost say that they hide as much as they can from the public almost to the point that people are thinking EEStor is some kind of scam.

Now there is of course a lot more to this plot. Lockheed Martin actually signed an exclusive deal with them about a year ago, as did a publicly traded Canadian electric car maker called Zenn Motors. When this story broke, stock at Zenn shot way, way up. In fact, let me pull a picture off of Google Finance right now for you guys!

Zenn Stock after Permmittivity Anouncement

Zenn Motors Stock after Permmittivity Announcement

So yeah, all the scientific mumbo jumbo actually means a lot to the future of the electric vehicle. Eventually I’ll get around to posting an article for you guys which showcases some of the most exciting green automotive technologies of the future that may very well lead the way to finally replacing fuel. As always, stay tuned and subscribe to the RSS feed if you want to be updated whenever I post an oh-so-interesting article! And yes, I’ll make a bigger RSS button eventually. Peace out!

Buying Online Tip #1: Advantages and Disadvantages

Buying OnlineMany people don’t realize all the advantages of buying online, but I assure you that they are huge. I’ve been getting more and more stuff off the internet over the past couple of years, and absolutely love it. It saves me money, and is a lot less stressful than buying in retail stores. Once you start, you’ll never go back. The biggest advantage exists for a simple reason: electronic retailers (E-Tailers) are competing on a much bigger market than your local stores are. You’ve probably noticed that over time, all the smaller computer shops or widget shops have been closing down only to be replaced by larger retailers. This can create economies of scale (basically the advantages of moving larger volumes, thus making things cheaper) but also takes competition out of the picture. It’s definitely a good deal for the big guys, but what about for you? Probably not so great. There are also lots of fears about using the net to get your shopping done, some founded but most not. Alright, check it out.

Continue reading Buying Online Tip #1: Advantages and Disadvantages

Retail Stores are Overrated

IRetail Stores are Overrated was recently asked by a member of my family if I could help them set up their new high-end HP computer purchased at Future Shop that kicked the can a month into its operation. Of course, still being under warranty, they brought it back for repair on March 31st. I’m now writing this on April 17th, and so far, dealing with the local Future Shop has been nothing but an exercise in frustration and futility. Even if the problem with the machine was a hardware issue, a large retail store like that should have one or two day turnarounds at worst. I do realize that HP deals with distributors and that Future Shop needs to wait on parts from them, but this is just plain ridiculous. The worst of it is, they are stuck in a perpetual loop of saying the machine will be ready “tomorrow” every time they get called out for taking too long. In this case, I guarantee you the fault does not lie with HP, it’s probably just a case of some kids not know what they are doing or who just aren’t willing to work. In any case, it’s pretty hard to keep from feeling screwed over when something like this happens. Now I feel obliged to point out that this phenomenon isn’t limited to Future Shop, it’s pretty common in many retail stores around the world in many industries.

The moral of the story is that many people are afraid of getting screwed over online when in fact the experience in a local store will often be far worse. Whether you are afraid that you won’t get good customer service or the item won’t ever be shipped out to just plain old getting ripped off,  there are lots of tricks that can save you time, boatloads of money and frustration. Watch out for a series of guides coming up which will help you get great deals and stay safe buying online. I guarantee that if you are armed with sufficient knowledge you’ll be getting the best deals out there in no time. Stay tuned!

Top 10 Reasons File Sharing is Here to Stay

No RIAAThe open and often illegal exchange of music, movies, software, books and other content and information is something of great debate among content holders, home users and governments alike. Considered plain wrong by some, gray area by others and even advocated fought for by the rest, there is a lot to discuss morally. One thing that you can be sure of, though, is that it is here to stay whether it’s “right” or not. Here’s why:

  1. Mob mentality: if everyone is doing it, it must be okay, right? Most of us have probably seen those ads from the RIAA and other organizations which try to make us feel like criminals. See how well that’s worked even though it’s technically true?
  2. It’s hard to feel bad for people lining their pockets with your own money. What’s that? We are hurting the artists? Seen an episode of cribs lately?
  3. We probably all hate the RIAA by now. They sue children, dead people and your mom and are ready to ruin your life for downloading a song all the while taking massive chunks of change from the artists for themselves. I’ll download more just to spite them alone.
  4. Governments and politicians are very… Alarmed. Or not. Sure, some countries have cracked down on sharing more than others. The fact of the matter is, though, that fighting for big industry and against your own population won’t make you particularly popular.
  5. Music is a social thing, and we just love to collect and share it with people. Checking out the songs somebody else has on their mp3 player is fun to do and can be a common point of interest. “Oh, I love this song, can I have it?” “No, sorry, I don’t’ want to hurt the artist!” Sure…
  6. We have whetted our appetites for free and open exchange of content, information and data on the internet and curbing the habit will be all but impossible at this point. Think about it, what would it take to completely stop you?
  7. The stolen content is better than the legit stuff often times. Sure, DRM protection is slowly going the way of the dinosaur, but you know that if you are getting the file for free from a good site or service, it’s going to be a high quality rip and can be shared over and over – worry-free.
  8. The dark side has lots of really smart people. It really is a case of punch, counterpunch. Somebody is paid to figure out how to throttle torrents, then torrent encryption is created. Then we see deep packet inspection, now we have VPN.
  9. Technology evolves to make things easier, not harder. You can’t undo what work has been done by tools which largely have very legitimate uses. Now that they are out there, they are here to stay.
  10. It would take truly radical policies to stop this worldwide phenomenon. Strict prosecution and the threat of being sued, cut off from your internet access by the state or other such measures would need to be taken. France has tried and, more recently, failed.

Bell Canada Attacks the Internet Again

As it turns out, Bell is attacking Canadian Internet once again, this time with a push for metered access for their wholesale providers. Basically it means that if the CRTC passes the motion, Bell will be able to stop third-party Canadian providers using its network from providing unlimited bandwidth to customers. The proposed caps start at just 2GB per month for users of 512 kilobits per second services up to 60GB per month for 5 megabit users. This was first brought to my attention yesterday when I received an email from Rocky Gaudrault, the CEO and founder of TekSavvy Solutions on the issue.

Tania Net Neutrality

Continue reading Bell Canada Attacks the Internet Again

Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Susan Boyle

The title says it all… Sometimes really amazing things just happen. There is of course more to life than just technology, and this is one of those cool things worth a mention. I don’t frequently watch Britain’s Got Talent, in fact I’ve only ever seen one episode. One recent contestant has been taking the internets by storm though: Susan Boyle. It is simply a case of a truly amazing performance that you really don’t see coming from 10 miles away.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then a video must be worth 24,000 words a second – don’t worry if you don’t know why, it’s probably a good thing. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, Susan Boyle:

The Lowdown on the Microsoft Ads

Quite uncharacteristically, Microsoft has actually been responding to Apple’s often humorous “Mac vs. PC” ads. If you look at Microsoft’s history in advertising, it’s always been incredibly horrible. In fact, there aren’t really any words to describe how bad it’s been. If anything, it scares me that I use Windows machines daily when I see some of the stuff they’ve put out – I mean just take a look at Steve Ballmer’s idea of advertising:

Dell Latitude E5400 Review

The Latitude E5400 series of 14.1″ business notebooks is Dell’s replacement for their venerable D series. It’s a business-class laptop which fits in the middle of Dell’s lineup: Vostro is on the lower end while the Latitude E6400 is the top-end 14” model. The new E series sports a completely new all-business look for Dell and are now based on Intel’s Montevina platform. If you want to impress your friends with a fancy design, this isn’t your machine, but for those who just want to get work done, the E5400 should do the trick.

Latitude E5400 Cover

My particular Dell Latitude E5400 came equipped with the following hardware:

  • Display: 14.1” WXGA (1280×800) CCFL LCD
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 2.0GHz, 800MHz FSB,  2MB cache
  • Memory: 2GB of 800MHz DDR2
  • Hard Drive: 80GB 5400 RPM Hitachi HDD
  • Graphics: Intel GMA 4500 MHD
  • Wireless: Dell 1397 802.11n mini-card
  • Wired: Broadcom NetXtreme 57xx gigabit
  • CD-RW/DVD-ROM Drive
  • PC-Card slot
  • Windows Vista Business w/XP Downgrade option
  • 56Wh 6 Cell battery
  • 90W slim AC adapter
  • Weight: 5.58lbs/2.54kg
  • Dimensions 13.3” x 9.5” x 1.5” (338.0 x 240.0 x 37.0mm)

Initial Impressions and Design

The latitude E5400 has a relatively bland all-busfiness design which the Lenovo faithful will surely love.  The most striking things that were immediately apparent the first time I held the unit are that it is very solid with minimal chassis flex but is actually quite heavy, weighing in at 5.58 pounds with the 6-cell battery installed. For those willing to pay more for a lighter model, the Dell markets the more expensive E6400 which has a full magnesium-alloy chassis and weighs 5.14 pounds with the same configuration. Before you open up the screen for the first time, you’ll also notice that Dell decided not to place any ports at the back of the unit which is reserved for the air outlet and battery. The E series can be configured with either a flush-mounted 6 cell or an extended 9 cell battery which will stick out the back.

Dell Latitude E5400 Back

The battery and cooling exhaust at the back

Dell Latitude E5400 Left Ports

To the left, you’ll find a VGA output, gigabit Ethernet port, modem jack (optional), 2 USB ports, S-Video out, FireWire and a PC card slot.

Dell Latitude E5400 Right Ports

To your right, you’ll find the power input, 2 more USB ports, microphone in, headphones out, and the DVD drive.

When you first open the machine, you’ll notice that the screen latch doesn’t feel particularly smooth, though I was glad to see a metal latch on the screen. Hinge motion is very smooth and precise and feels just right. The no-frills look continues on the inside. The only multimedia buttons you’ll find here are volume up/down and mute, with the rest of the space dedicated to the power button, keyboard, trackpad and speakers which are on the top of these machines. The full-size keyboard uses the same layout as prior Latitudes, though lacks the old trackpoint in the center meaning that you’ll be forced to use the trackpad or an external mouse.

Dell Latitude E5400

One feature you might not immediately notice is that Dell has now included a light sensor on the lower left part of the screen. The light sensor is used in order to dynamically change screen brightness as ambient lighting conditions change. In practice, I found it to be excellent to have when on the go since I could always have a readable screen at the lowest possible brightness, allowing for greater battery life. There were a few occasional problems with it in a fixed-brightness office environment due to the brightness changing itself up and down continuously. You can enable and disable it quickly by pressing Fn+Left Arrow.

Dell Latitude E5400 Light Sensor

One final notable feature of the new overall design is the new 90W slim AC adapter which weighs just a smidge over 400 grams (0.88 pounds). When you are packing it in a bag, it definitely makes much more sense to have a slimmer adapter and I have to congratulate Dell on its look and feel.

Dell Latitude E5400 AC Adapter

First Power Up

Powering up the laptop for the first time, you are greeted with an all-blue lighting scheme just like the accent lighting on the tip of the power adapter. The lighting is subtle and gets the job done. There are LEDs on the outside of the screen near the hinge to indicate battery and power status. Windows Vista Business came pre-loaded on this particular notebook. Once the initial configuration tasks were completed, I was pleased to find that nothing was pre-loaded onto the machine. The fact that no software is included by default is great for businesses and users alike since you won’t have to fight with third-party utilities causing problems or slowing down your system.

Unfortunately, Dell did not install any hardware drivers on the computer that Windows does not include by default. Visiting Dell’s website and entering the service tag allowed all the relevant and up to date drivers to be located and installed. At the same time, you’ll probably want to install at least one piece of new and unique software: Dell ControlPoint (DCP). The most interesting feature of this little piece of software is what Dell, in all its originality, calls “Dell Extended Battery Life”. Basically, it will manage a host of power settings for you above and beyond what Windows does whenever the system is on battery power. For example, it can turn off Vista Aero and set display depth to 16 bit, shut of the wired adapter when not in use, completely power off the DVD drive, drop LCD refresh rate and shut down the cardbus and 1394 port among other things. In practice, I actually find DCP to do a pretty good job of increasing battery life by up to about 15% which is great for software which is merely shutting down unused devices.

Ergonomics

I’ve seen a few people complain that Dell placed the rubber grommets to keep the screen from rubbing against the keyboard on the palm side of the laptop instead of on the screen. While I’m not sure why they did this, I can assure you that unless you have a tendency of being really crooked when you type, you’ll never notice. Some may also be concerned about the port placement, which actually turned out better than expected. Having everything on the sides doesn’t cause any major problems and I don’t see how it would except for in some extreme cases.

The left and right click buttons feel phenomenal and are simply a joy to use. If you install the Synaptics touchpad driver from the Dell website, you’ll also be able to middle-click by pressing both at the same time. In addition to that, you can scroll vertically and horizontally with the touchpad, so you get all the features of a standard 3 button mouse. The keyboard feels okay, but is bested by quite a few other machines out there. In fact, I have an 8 year old Latitude C610 machine and the keyboard is significantly more solid than this newer model. Simply put, Lenovo still does it better and overall, the keyboard is simply average. I really don’t have any major complaints about this notebook; it feels solid and well spaced out and does what’s needed.

Dell Latitude E5400 Keyboard

Battery Life

Battery life is good, but nothing to write home about. Bearing in mind that the installed 65nm Intel T7250 has a 35W TDP (versus 25W for a P8400 CPU), battery life under “normal” usage conditions proved to allow for about 4h30m to 5 hours of work to get done with Dell ControlPoint on the six cell battery at moderate brightness. If you let the system idle at minimum brightness then you’ll see a very maximum of 6 hours of life. Again, these figures will improve if you opt for a lower power processor like the P8400, which is a slightly faster 45nm part. If you need extended life, Dell also allows you to install a 12 cell “battery slice” along the bottom in addition to the primary 6 or 9 cell battery, though I doubt many will opt for that option.

Dell Latitude E5400 Bottom and Battery

While on the subject of the battery, it should be noted that the 6 cell I received does not have the power status lights that Dell has been including on many of their units for years now. If you manage hundreds of laptops and batteries, this is pretty bad news. For most users though, the change is minor. Dell rates the battery for 300 full charge/discharge cycles, which seems on the low side since lithium cells are usually rated for up to about 1000 cycles. One reason for this may Dell ExpressCharge which can be set in the BIOS.  It allows you to quickly charge the battery to 80% charge in about an hour if the notebook is off – charge times are limited by how much power can be provided by a 90W AC adapter. Dell states that in operation, the battery will reach a full charge with the computer on in 2 hours with ExpressCharge or 4 hours in standard charge mode. Under most circumstances, I recommend charging batteries more slowly in order to increase the number of effective cycles you can get out of them.

Audio

In the Audio Department, the Latitude E5400 was on-par with other business laptops, if not slightly better. The speakers were certainly loud enough to do a presentation, though lack in the bass and mid-range department as expected. I did find the headphone jack to be above average in the volume and quality department. Dell actually did a pretty good job with the amplified audio output. In fact, I found that it sounds better than most other headphone jacks you’ll find on most consumer electronics today such as mp3 players.

Cooling

The E5400’s fan runs almost constantly, albeit slowly and quietly which may annoy some. It seems to run based on both CPU and HDD temperatures. With the fan spinning almost all the time the entire computer does stay extremely cool despite the 65nm processor installed. One thing to note is that the left side of the computer stays much warmer than the right side since most of the main components are there. Additionally, the hard drive sits under the left palm rest and does become warm during use. The hard drive normally sits between 32 and 42 degrees Celsius depending on where you have your laptop. If you sit it on a surface which completely restricts airflow it’ll run up to the high range. On a desk, you won’t have such a problem and it will stay very cool. Either way, the temperatures are nothing to worry about, but I do think Dell could have done a better job of distributing the heat over the entire unit. Finally, it should be noted that the battery, being in the back, almost always stays near room temperature which is phenomenal if you want to maximize its lifespan.

Performance

I’m not going to go into an in-depth analysis of the system’s performance since my configuration is admittedly a little out of date with an older Intel processor. In addition to that, performance is absolutely on par with what you’d expect of a system based on the Montevina platform. For me, it’s been more than enough to run Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop, Microsoft Office and browse the web – all at once. Of course, I’m not working with massive graphics or doing video editing, etc. Just know that Dell has gotten it right in their implementation of the system hardware and it will perform on par with what you expect. For most users, I would recommend 2GB of RAM and the Intel P8400 which will offer a little more battery life and performance for relatively little added cost. While some competing notebooks offer DDR3 memory, the Latitude comes equipped with older DDR2 memory which slightly hurts its battery life scores and will have a (negligible) effect on performance. At the time of writing, I actually prefer a system running on DDR2 memory though as upgrading it is dirt-cheap. This laptop is capable of accepting up to 2 x 4GB modules allowing for a massive 8GB of installed memory. This said, 4GB modules are both very hard to come by and extremely expensive.

Extended Testing and Build Quality

After well over a month of use, the computer has not crashed once and has offered a completely seamless and error-free user experience which you’d expect from a business-class machine. The admittedly bland finish has held up extremely well so far and still looks brand new despite daily use – in fact, the shots taken for this review were taken after over a month of use.

In terms of possible issues I see going forward, the tip of the power adapter is a little worrisome. The accent lighting that they have on it looks good, but unfortunately one end has begun to sever a little despite not having been mistreated. I can see IT departments having to replace these after maybe just a year of use or less. Hopefully Dell manages to sort out this issue as quickly as possible.

Another small problem that cropped up after extended use and testing is that the touchpad becomes a little unresponsive every once in awhile. I can’t really explain why it wouldn’t track properly, but this only happens about once a day with heavy use, so it’s not really an issue. Still, it’s worth a mention.

Overall my experience has been very positive despite the small problems that do exist. They really haven’t hurt productivity at all, and the bottom line is that this machine just gets the job done.

Dell Latitude E5400 Bag

Concluding Remarks

Overall, the Dell Latitude E5400 has been a really great machine to work on. I can certainly recommend it to anybody looking for a work machine which won’t break the bank, gets good battery life, performs well and is solidly built. It doesn’t offer the lighter weight of its big brother, the Latitude E6400, nor does it have quite as nice a finish on the cover or offer features like a backlit keyboard. It also can’t compete with other models like the Lenovo T400 in battery life, but one place where it does win is price. I purchased my particular model brand new off Ebay for 350 USD (but that’s a whole other article!), and as configured at time of writing costs 649 USD direct from Dell. I always recommend that people purchase business-class devices whenever they can to make sure something works and the Latitude series is no exception. Its true power lies in the fact that it doesn’t try to do too much, but largely excels at what it does do. If you want a workhorse at a reasonable price, the Latitude E5400 truly is a great option.

Awesome:

  • Solid construction
  • Very good battery life
  • Good performer for the price
  • No apps or software preinstalled

Not so cool:

  • Power adapter tip is cheap
  • Relatively heavy
  • Lots of keyboard flex

Strong alternatives:

  • Lenovo T400
  • Dell Latitude E6400