back to article Teensy plastic shields are the big new thing in 2018's laptop crop

The PC market may be in decline but someone is going to buy about 300 million of them this year. And because The Register knows that plenty of our readers are responsible for PC purchasing, deployment and maintenance … here we are with our annual guide to what's new and notable among the new models from HP, Lenovo and Dell, the …

  1. Lee D Silver badge

    "On the storage front, magnetic-media hard disk drives are now the exception to the rule and even when they are an option aren't exciting anyone."

    About time.

    "All three companies have also made 8GB of RAM their floor this year, other than in budget models."

    What the hell? I feel like I've gone back a decade.

    My 8-year-old laptop has 12Gb in it, from the day it was purchased, and it wasn't a ludicrously expensive top-of-the-line thing even back then.

    4Gb lets you boot.

    8Gb is the minimum I specify in work (where we buy the cheapest desktops we can find because our users just run Word, etc.)

    16Gb is my preferred.

    Are you telling me people still aren't on 64-bit yet? The last processor that wasn't 64-bit-capable (not counting the cheapy Atom range) is way over a decade old. We're talking Pentium 4.

    That we're STILL selling laptops with only 4Gb is ludicrous, budget-range or not. And I damn well hope they're upgradeable to at least 64/128Gb just by putting new chips in.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Horses for courses?

      Yes, it does sound like a bit of a timewarp - for 'power users'. My 7 year-old lappie also has 8GB, and 18-month old one has 16GB and lots besides. But I'm a developer.

      I also have a nice little HP jobbie with 2GB and which doesn't even have a proper SSD - 32GB of on-board memory and it happily runs Win 10. Obviously not for running mega-spreadsheets, but it's fine for checking e-mails, browsing amazon, watching a bit of telly etc, and it can actually be used for typing, unlike a phone. For some people that may be perfectly adequate. Personally I regret the death of the cheapo notebook format like the old Acer Aspire 1.

      So, no, budget laptops with 4GB which can't upgrade to 128GB aren't ludicrous. They meet the needs of many customers - but it's important that they are sold as what they are, not mega-gaming machines.

      1. Joe Werner

        Re: Horses for courses?

        Yeah, my feeling exactly - btw. I looked at the memory usage on my work machine (32GB). The actual work (some rather computationally expensive stats stuff) uses 6GB (using all but two threads). Firefox uses... a ton, WTF? I guess that this is sort of machine-dependent (and htop might be confused about the forked childs - three dozen or so - WTF?!), but this is by far the most memory hungry process on this machine. I also have a massive figure for a paper open in Inkscape - which seems written quite well, so the memory usage does not explode into my face.

        Bottom line: I could likely get away with 8GB RAM, or even less, if my data analysis stuff would be running on a dedicated workstation (instead of my desktop). On a laptop I clearly do not need that much memory if it is not my main work machine (it is not - it is to do some stuff while on the road, but not the heavy lifting, and I want it to be small enough to be able to work on a plane or the train, and the data analysis stuff runs a few days, continously). I do need a ton of HDD (also on the laptop), the datasets I work with are a few GB each. And there are a number of those... (no, downloading them over a crappy conference, airport lounge or hotel wlan is not what I want).

        Actually, my old Samsung netbook was close to a perfect match for my needs: method development worked ok, long battery life (10hrs), small (10"). An updated version (more threads / cores, bit more RAM, bit more HDD, say 1TB) would have been great - alas, they don't make stuff like that any more...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Horses for courses?

        What seems like a ludicrously low spec to you, as a power user / developer / gamer / whatever, may be a perfectly usable spec for someone who just wants something portable that they can write a few documents on, check emails, a bit of YouTube time, etc.

        It's a bit like saying that my local Ford dealer has new cars with a 1.6 litre engines good for 120mp/h...what a throwback - Ferrari, Lamborghni and the rest routinely build cars with 5 litre, 200mp/h engines.

        >1 spec because >1 use case.

      3. Oh Homer Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: "16Gb is my preferred"

        I think it depends on the use case, but most of the opinions I've read/heard on the subject (from actual engineers as opposed to journos running advertorials) suggest that 16GB is largely redundant for typical desktop use (i.e. games and browsing).

        Actual full-time professional productivity use (not just "I run Photoshop sometimes") might justify 16GB, and of course anything server related, even if not run on a proper server, such as database and virtualisation.

        Not that I'd say no if someone gifted me 16GB of DDR4, but at the current obscene prices I'm afraid I have no compelling reason to go beyond 8GB.

    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      I think you just made their point for them. 4GB lets you boot, 8GB is the minimum. RAM requirements have stabilised over recent years, much like 1TB storage is more than enough for 90% of users.

    3. Snorlax Silver badge
      WTF?

      @Lee D

      @Lee D:"What the hell? I feel like I've gone back a decade.

      My 8-year-old laptop has 12Gb in it, from the day it was purchased, and it wasn't a ludicrously expensive top-of-the-line thing even back then.

      4Gb lets you boot."

      You're special, obviously.

      You assume that because "I need x, so everybody must need it too"...

      Sure, if you run virtual machines on your laptop or keep 30 Chrome tabs open all at once you might want to max out your RAM. Windows 7, 10 and OS X all run fine on 4Gb, but since you've decreed that we can only boot our machines with that much RAM I guess I'll need to upgrade...

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: @Lee D

        Nothing to do with that.

        Did you know games are 64-bit only and demanding 16Gb+ RAM nowadays? That's not the top-end gamers only, but just to RUN the game on Steam.

        As you can see from my post, I deploy 8Gb by default to ALL USERS, and I work in a prep school. That means primary-aged children, and staff who run nothing more demanding that Word, Outlook and Chrome. Because 4Gb vastly increases their performance (and coupled with an SSD for some staff makes ancient Lenovo desktop machines that they don't make any more FLY). I'm sitting on a ThinkCenter E72 in work, it's hardly a power-user machine.

        As people have noted above, a browser can suck up Gigabytes (and, sure, some of that is page caching, but by far not all). The latest series of phones have 3Gb or more, what makes you think that they are doing more than people's desktops?

        Yes, I have VMWare. But none of my client computers in work do (or HyperV, that's for servers). Chrome tabs? Gosh, why would any unexperienced user open 30 tabs at the time (something I could do back in the Opera 3.6 days without ANY HASSLE AT ALL on a machine with way less RAM)... because they're users who click everything and don't even realise they have other tabs open half the time. Windows 7, 8 and 10 all RUN with 4Gb. Fine? I wouldn't say that. That's WHY I upgraded... when I started at this workplace that's what they had (P.S. that was 5 years ago, and it was considered a "cheap" solution even then). User's complained that the machines were slow. So the upgradeable ones got 8Gb, the others got SSDs (note: All machine running 64-bit Windows, but some motherboards aren't built to cope with >4Gb RAM but some of these clients are models that are 10 years old, so hardly surprising). Both provide an ENORMOUS boost to the system.

        It's about being sensible... the cost of 4Gb extra RAM is pitiful for the performance improvement. It also drastically reduces swapping, especially important if you are using an SSD. I have actually seen 4Gb machines with no swap just run out of memory (hint: I have Outlook and Vivaldi loaded, with Sophos and some TINY utilities in the background, on the WORST machine in my worklpace - always eat your own dogfood. It's left running all the time. Once a week, I get a "we've closed this program because we were running out of memory"... and that's on a machine with 4Gb and swapfile on SSD [which is slowly killing the drive but it's surviving nicely]).

        I'm not just making this stuff up. Go buy a cheap laptop and put an extra 4Gb in it. The value is way above a more expensive laptop with only 4Gb.

        Your disk must be swapping all day long with only 4Gb on a modern OS running even basic Office and Chrome for any significant working day.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Linux

          Re: @Lee D

          "Your disk must be swapping all day long with only 4Gb on a modern OS running even basic Office and Chrome for any significant working day."

          not if you're running Linux or FreeBSD. I use VMs with <2G with those all of the time. And I've got an old Linux box (that I test certain things on) with less than 1G on it. runs fine.

          When you say 'modern' - I don't think that word means what you think it means. What it definitely does NOT mean: BLOATWARE (and, especially, Win-10-nicf).

          icon because: Linux runs on systems with <1Gb RAM and doesn't seem to have a problem with it.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: OP

          OP Seems to think RAM is the solution, and missed that their School PCs have economic OEM drives in them. So the extra £50~ on the RAM could have been used on the SSD upgrade and it would work *faster*.

          So yes, on a system with a slow HDD and low ram, it is slow. Upping the ram allows Windows 10 to use prefetch options. You just sped up the computers in the most expensive way. Adding a faster HDD or SSD would benefit them, possibly better too as actual disk searching and non-cached content will be fast.

          Though of cause just a RAM disk is the fastest option. But not needed on most browsing PCs/Laptops, so 4 or 6gb is the average.

          [edit] Sorry, seems they have known this, and are upgrading old tech, so ram is a penny a stick.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Lee D

          @Lee D

          But everything you are stating is still for power users.

          Normal users don't have Office installed, as they won't own a copy, so don't use Word or Outlook, most won't even install a free office tool like Libreoffice, as most people don't write letters, or do spreadsheets. Other than things like Solitaire they don't play games, or use VMs (most won't know what one is), or use editing suites, or do video encoding etc. All these these tasks are uncommon for non work or non power users.

          They will almost all use online email services like GMail, so don't use a local email client, as most of their email reading is now done on their mobile anyway, not on a PC. Even if they have a new PC, assuming Windows 10, it has built in email and contact 'apps', so normal users won't see the point in getting Outlook.

          Most normal PC users these days, could probably be given a Chromebook, and wouldn't even notice the change, as very few normal people are even using desktop apps these days.

          So for most normal users, 4GB is more than enough memory, granted it might stall for a second or two after a long session, when switching apps, or between browser tabs, but normal users will just assume that's standard behaviour, and won't actually care. Plus if using an SSD, which thankfully is now becoming more the norm, that stall is going to be fairly minimal.

        4. Boothy
          WTF?

          Re: @Lee D

          Quote: Did you know games are 64-bit only and demanding 16Gb+ RAM nowadays? That's not the top-end gamers only, but just to RUN the game on Steam.

          Citation needed.

          Not sure what relevance 64bit games has here, as most gamers would be using a 64bit OS anyway, and have been since at least Win 7 being released. So use of a 32bit vs 64bit exe is both irrelevant and transparent to most users, at least in the Windows world. The switch to 64bit has mostly been around using more than 4GB of memory in a single app, not trying to hit 16GB+.

          And, as an avid PC gamer, I've yet to see a single game demanding over 16GB+ RAM. Some games can take advantage of more memory, by caching more data, so reducing things like load time between areas etc. But the core game itself still runs happily in under 8GB RAM.

          Most modern gaming engines are cross platform, so need to work on PC and consoles, current consoles are limited to ~8GB, so no modern game using these engines (so that includes just about all AAA games) will demand more than 8GB, unless it's using a custom engine build for PC only. They might take advantage of over 8GB for caching textures etc, but they won't demand it.

          Most PC gamers still have 8GB of RAM, with 16GB being in 2nd place. That's not likely to change any time soon with current RAM prices, so no game producer is going to target 16GB+ systems, as there is just no market there.

          1. Justin Clift

            Re: @Lee D

            > And, as an avid PC gamer, I've yet to see a single game demanding over 16GB+ RAM.

            Highest RAM requirements I've seen to date is for Star Citizen:

            Windows 7 (64bit) with Service Pack 1, Windows 8 (64bit), Windows 10 - Anniversary Update (64bit)

            * DirectX 11 Graphics Card with 2GB RAM (4GB strongly recommended)

            * Quad Core CPU

            * 16GB+ RAM

            * SSD strongly recommended

            Haven't tried it out, so no idea personally what the performance is like with various hardware configs (eg <16GB, 16GB, 32GB, etc).

        5. TonyJ Silver badge

          Re: @Lee D

          "...Did you know games are 64-bit only and demanding 16Gb+ RAM nowadays? That's not the top-end gamers only, but just to RUN the game on Steam..."

          Gaming you say?

          https://www.techspot.com/article/1043-8gb-vs-16gb-ram/page3.html

          Ok, a little over a year ago and sure some things do benefit from more RAM for sure but the difference between 8GB and 16GB for gaming isn't half as big as most people seem to believe.

          1. Killfalcon Bronze badge

            Re: @Lee D

            I'm a VBA developer at a major finance company.

            I'm happy keeping my five year old Win 7, 4GB i5 Dell until I'm no longer developing tools meant to run on five year old Win 7 4GB i5 Dells. It's slow to boot, but it works nicely enough.

            Seriously, it's fine. If I need to juggle terabytes of data, I have RDP and machines in the data centre that'll flatten a 32GB power desktop. Anything less than that? I know without doubt if I can run it, so can my users.

          2. RandSec

            Re: @Lee D

            The December 11, 2017 version of the same article makes a fairly clear statement:

            "For casual gamers, the bare minimum is still 8GB but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the upgrade to 16GB will ensure smoother gameplay.

            "For serious gamers with mid-range to high-end hardware, we're almost at the point where we'd say 16GB the the minimal acceptable amount of system memory."

            "For GTX 1060 or RX 580 owners who've spent $200-$250 on their graphics card, dumping another $200 on DDR4 memory is something they're probably umming and ahhing about. If you're playing games such as Battlefield 1 or in particular Call of Duty WWII and you care about being competitive, then 16GB really is a must.

            "Alternatively, if you have a relatively high-end GPU such as the GTX 1070 or Vega 56 but play older, less memory-intensive games, then 8GB will no doubt be fine. But again, for these newer titles you'll ideally want 16GB."

            https://www.techspot.com/article/1535-how-much-ram-do-you-need-for-gaming/

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Lee D

              "Alternatively, if you have a relatively high-end GPU such as the GTX 1070 or Vega 56"

              Just get yourself an Xbox 1X. 6 TFLOPs like the 1070 but 50% higher memory bandwidth and countless other optimisations like a fully custom CPU for £400.

        6. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: @Lee D

          "As you can see from my post, I deploy 8Gb by default to ALL USERS, and I work in a prep school. That means primary-aged children"

          Ah, this is the UK definition of prep school, i.e. expensive private school for kids who want to get into even more expensive private schools. Obviously 8Gbytes is a minimum for our future leaders.

          Hoi polloi can make do with iPads.

        7. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Lee D

          another gamer drone who thinks he knows how computers work.. buy a console and leave computers for the grown-ups

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Lee D

        he was just (small) willy-waving - he's obviously got a machine he thinks is GREAT and good for him !

        but if he needs 4Gb to boot - he's doing something very, very wrong indeed..

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      my desktop at home. an old intel quad core runs on 'only' 4gb with nary a hiccup with word, excel or any other business app.

      i'm not saying 4gb is enough for everyone or every task. I'm a developer and 'work' on a machine with 64gb on it, giving a number of VM's room to breath. But if 4gb's not enough for office tasks you're either using the wrong office tools, have some other shit running on your computers, or you and your users are all idiots.

    5. Jim 59

      Memory

      The nicest addition would be to slap Linux Mint on there instad of Windows. This would reduce the memory requirements considerably and increase the PCs lifespan.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Memory

        "The nicest addition would be to slap Linux Mint on there instad of Windows. This would reduce the memory requirements considerably and increase the PCs lifespan."

        But would lower the battery life and reduce the performance.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Memory

          sad but true, here in 2018 and Linux & BSD's still cant get the heat / battery life sorted - that's why i left. got fed up of recompiling the kernel to include p4 and other cpu friendly things & having a desk fan blowing cool air into the bottom of the laptop to stop it overheating & crashing whilst installing Linux - a fact that wasn't lost on me when the same laptop ran cool as a cucumber running Win.

          Most the after-market community linux Android ROMS you can install on to your Android increased heat and reduced battery life. Linus, please sort this shit out, i've been using linux since 1997

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "That we're STILL selling laptops with only 4Gb is ludicrous, budget-range or not. "

      Windows 10 runs quite happily in 2GB of RAM due to it's memory compression, etc. 4GB is fine for browsing + MS Office in most use cases.

      1. Alan Edwards

        > Windows 10 runs quite happily in 2GB of RAM

        Windows 10 itself runs in 2Gb, but none of the stuff you need to do work does. At a minimum I need Outlook, Chrome and Skype for Business, and 2Gb RAM on an HP Pavilion x2 isn't enough. It spends it's life swapping bits in and out.

        4Gb is enough though, just. I briefly used a Celeron-based Acer with 4Gb, and that was happy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Windows 10 itself runs in 2Gb, but none of the stuff you need to do work does. At a minimum I need Outlook, Chrome and Skype for Business, and 2Gb RAM on an HP Pavilion x2 isn't enough."

          Switch to Edge and it will cope better. Chrome is a resource hog and anyway Edge is faster.

    7. Robert Brockway

      I'm amazed that you've been down-voted so much. A problem in IT going back decades is that most consumer grade systems are sold critically short of ram. The price difference is small but the performance difference is huge. The general public don't realise how serious a problem this is.

      My main desktop system at home until recently was maxedout at 32GB ram. It was 6 years old and failing. I replaced it recently with a NUC maxed out at 32GB ram. Next system will probably have more.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        most 'normal' computer users (normal people) don't care as long as it works.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Maybe those poor souls with 4Gb RAM don't feel too bad about it as you do, as their machines work as they expect

  2. James 51 Silver badge

    The price of RAM has gone a little crazy lately. Settling on 4gb to get me up and running and then will but 8 or 16gb of the fastest RAM my motherboard can handle (going to get a 2400G as I can't get a graphics card I want at a sane price either).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As far as I know, something like a 1050ti might outperform the 2400G. So if you don't mind a little for that card, it will give 3 times the performance, for £125 or so uk new. Still more than an integrated GPU overhead cost, but much much more economical for the return in performance.

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        Cheapest 1050ti I have seen so far is about £150 which is only £10 less than a RX560 (though that is on preorder with amazon, but it now is closer to £190 or £200).

  3. m0rt Silver badge

    If laptop makers were really serious about security, then hard swtiches for the camera and mic, just for starters.

    A little plastic shutter indeed. Evidence of items being produced to a marketing spec, not being produced to a end-user requirements spec.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Actually a "little plastic shutter" is a bit more serious than a "hard swicth" .... how do you know that the hard switch is actually turning the camera off rather than just making a "I wan't the camera off" indication that software can ignore!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        How do you know

        That the camera cannot do IR video, and the plastic is only visually transparent. ;)

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        I use a piece of a post-it note when I feel a bout of paranoia coming on.

        Does anyone offer soundproof covers for the microphone? (And speakers, too, maybe: I recall reading a while back that some of the sound chips can be "adjusted" to operate in reverse and use the speakers as microphones).

    2. Cl9

      There's a psychological aspect to it which you're forgetting. I've got a USB webcam for my desktop, which I leave sitting on my monitor but unplugged most of the time, and I still find that unnerving sometimes, despite knowing that it's not plugged in. Having a physical thing blocking the lens puts that unease to rest.

      Also, so what if it's a "little plastic shutter"? It's not like the webcams can see through plastic, and it's likely that you'd want to build the shutter out of the same materials as the laptop chassis (usually plastic). Size has no effect either, provided that it's fully blocking the lens.

      Whilst I agree that a hard on/off switch would be best, it would probably cost more to manufacture, and I don't actually think that it would be as effective as resting peoples fears of webcams.

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Trollface

        I do have a webcam permanently plugged into my home desktop, but it's a model with prominently lit LED trims whenever it's actually on. Now, if you insist, I'm perfectly willing to believe that some combination of vulnerabilities does exist that would allow someone to re-engineer and/or switch its firmware (or driver) to snoop with no LEDs lit but I believe it would take some serious doing - with that kind of attention that webcam would be the least of my problems. Hooking into some IP-cam's open ports with default credentials is one thing - this would be quite another.

        Then again, if there's money in this, maybe I should start selling in-line USB dongles that do nothing but monitor current to a webcam and beep whenever it suddenly goes up. ...Naaah, I'm too lazy. Shenzen, are you listening? Free product idea...!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'd like a laptop with no built in camera, wifi, bluetooth, or speaker. All of those can be bought as peripherals. Having a few extra USB ports would be helpful :) Am I one of the few who does care about my laptop being thin and shining? I'd prefer one that's a bit robust and has the power, ports and cooling that make a laptop truly functional.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        I'd like a laptop with no built in camera, wifi, bluetooth, or speaker. All of those can be bought as peripherals

        Don't give Apple more ideas about what to leave out and then sell you extra adapters for

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Damn, I typed, "Am I one of the few who does care about my laptop being thin and shining?" and meant to type, "Am I one of the few who does not care about my laptop being thin and shining?"

        Sorry about that all.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          laptop needs :

          upgradeable or replaceable battery / ram / HD

          backlit keyboard

          decent trackpad

          ports (even legacy)

          needs to be metal

          doesn't need to be thin or light

          needs to feel good and solid.

          decent filtered PSU

    4. Munchausen's proxy
      Big Brother

      "f laptop makers were really serious about security, then hard swtiches for the camera and mic, just for starters."

      Yes, it's not the camera that worries me nearly as much as the microphone. I'd really like a laptop without one, or failing that the confidence to open it up and cut the correct leads.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        I discovered last year that the mic on my laptop had been dead since I got it.

        Unfortunately I found out when away from the office and trying to join a videoconference...

        Turns out to be really easy to unplug on a Dell. Though it seems it sometimes also pulls the socket off the motherboard.

    5. Byron "Jito463"

      re: A little plastic shutter indeed.

      I take the 'nuke it from orbit' approach and popped open my laptop to physically unplug the webcam. Can't hack what's no longer there.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ye - and stop making the damn things out of cheap crappy plastic, is metal in such short supply ?

  4. Dr_N Silver badge

    Webcam Shield?

    You mean the retrieved "chad" bit from hole-punching a self-adhesive address label?

    1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Webcam Shield?

      Too much hassle, a post-it note works just as well.

      ... and you can write your passwords on it!

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Webcam Shield?

      Duct-tape.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: Webcam Shield?

        Hammer & cold chisel

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Webcam Shield?

        band-ade is good, too. get a thin finger band-ade and it doesn't cover part of the screen (just the camera hole).

    3. picturethis
      Meh

      Re: Webcam Shield?

      How about a small circular piece of black electrician's tape that can be removed when needed?

      'Been doing that for 10+ years on my mom's, niece's and my laptops....

      Plastic little shutters? - They're probably designed so cheaply that they'll break after 3 activations.

      1. Andy Non

        Re: Webcam Shield?

        The black electician's tape works fine for me, or rather for my wife's laptop.

        1. Spacedinvader
          Happy

          Re: Webcam Shield?

          Worked great for a work colleague...until he went on a video call and couldn't for the life of him work out why the others on the call couldn't see him!

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Webcam Shield?

        For all the bodged solutions, have your considered their ability block infrared as well, which webcams DO tend to see?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Webcam Shield?

          Yes, we have.

    4. Uffish

      Re: Hole punch chad

      Little disks punched from black electrical tape also work fine for cameras and all the little holes with always-on microphones behind.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hey Maybot....What does #hashtag Amber use?

    Hey Maybot....What does #hashtag Amber use for security?

    Probably nothing, why even bother.

    Do you want me to send her your latest telemetry/diagnostic data?

    Ok...

    Done...

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Hey Maybot....What does #hashtag Amber use?

      I'm just hoping that Damian Green covered up or unplugged his webcam while doing whatever he did* on his Commons computer.

      *which obviously was most definitely not look at any porn whatsoever.

  6. Milton Silver badge

    A small mischievous bet

    What about Chinese-made shutters incorporating a polarised plastic window: always looks dark, but can be set to an "undetectable transparent" mode with a signal from malware aboard the device?

    My mischievous mind says you could set off a convincing-sounding meme about that and cause chaos...

    Fetching coat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A small mischievous bet

      They could probably coat every LCD pixel of a screen with a photo sensitive substance, much like a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (Camera CCDs) and get a rough (b&w/infra-red) image from the whole screen looking back at you, if they really wanted to.

      I'm sure Samsung must have looked into this, and boy if that already existed at chip level, it would be an eye-opener to say the least.

      Have I just stumbled on my latest Patent?

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: A small mischievous bet

        Have I just stumbled on my latest Patent?

        Try holding a piece of photo paper in front of your face and developing it - let me know when you succeed taking a picture, so I can start looking for airborne whales and petunias. I'm not saying there's no way to combine a screen with a camera, but just making the pixels photo-sensitive is not going to get you there. Lenses aren't quite redundant yet...

        1. ArrZarr Silver badge

          Re: A small mischievous bet

          I like the idea of combining everything into the screen. Makes for nice sci-fi images in my mind where the battery, camera, processor and everything else is actually just part of the screen.

          1. Killfalcon Bronze badge

            Re: A small mischievous bet

            You'd need to deal with the slight problem of the lightsource a few mm behind the transparent sensor.

            I think if you wanted to buy a camera under a screen, you'd probably need a way to make a few pixels turn off so it could "see through" - trying to dynamically filter out the screen image from the sensor is probably possible, but much, much harder.

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge

              Re: A small mischievous bet

              Should be feasible with an OLED screen, as can blink the pixel during exposure.

              Lensing is tricky though. Insect-style is feasible to make but rather low resolution.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A small mischievous bet

            sooo .. you mean a cell phone ?

            get a grip.. and real computer

  7. Baldrickk Silver badge

    USB-C docks are not great...

    I have one at work, it's fine, except from when it crashes and my external monitors, the network, keyboard and mouse all stop working.

    It's also not supported by bcrypt, so I need to have the laptop open anyway to use the built in screen and keyboard every time I want to turn it on, which means it requires desk-space and can't be tucked away under a shelf and just left there.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Are these appalling quality docking stations or laptops that don't support USB-C very well?

        Pesonally, I'd steer clear of USB-C docking stations for a while until the stock chips supporting them are common and stable. Much like the USB-3 docking stations that just work due to commonly supported chips and good reference designs. Doesn't stop certain manufacturers sticking their own branding on the otherwise identical design and adding £80-£100 to the price for the priviledge.

        As for brand specific laptop docking stations... just don't go there. You'll pay over the odds, get a dock that only works with one specific brand's laptops and often only a few of the laptops and will usually be obselete within months. Compared to a generic USB docking station that just works with whatever the hell is plugged into it.

        1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

          "As for brand specific laptop docking stations... just don't go there."

          Actually, and yes I do have the soapy flannel ready to wash my mouth out, Dell are very good here with the docking stations (port replicators for the picky) working on whole families of laptops and sometimes into new families too.

          Pteh...a bubble went up my nose

        2. DagD

          agreed...

          Not very impressed with usb-c. for one, you still have to plug power in to your laptop. Now you are plugging in two, three, or more? cables to your laptop, which really defeats the whole point of a docking station. It is sad to see docking stations that you just sit your laptop into going away, and really makes little sense. Now you have a mess of cords going into a plastic hub that only ways a couple of ounces and stressing wires through daily flexing, as well as the chintzy usb-c port. Failure is sure to abound after a couple years of daily use.

          1. Sandtitz Silver badge

            Re: agreed...

            "Not very impressed with usb-c. for one, you still have to plug power in to your laptop."

            Some laptops can be charged with the USB-C dock, HP Spectre Pro G1, Macbooks etc.

            The problem lies within the laptops which either consume more power than what USB-C can deliver (or what the USB-C dock/charger can deliver), OR the laptops contain the USB-C connectors but not the circuitry necessary to enable charging through it.

            "Now you have a mess of cords going into a plastic hub that only ways a couple of ounces and stressing wires through daily flexing, as well as the chintzy usb-c port. Failure is sure to abound after a couple years of daily use."

            Or, you can just select a weighty dock. I can live with light-weight docks with double-sided tape securing them to under the table or whatever.

            Side and bottom docks and port replicators are being deprecated by the OEMs because people are buying laptops so thin that they can't be docked. USB-C is a sufficiently thin connector and Thunderbolt has as much bandwidth than the traditional docks. USB-C and Thunderbolt are both standards whereas with docks you had to usually replace them when you're replacing your laptop. You're also not restricted to using vendor-specific docks when you're using TB or USB-C.

            1. James Hughes 1

              Re: agreed...

              Using a Dell laptop, charges fine though the USB-C docking station. Walk in, one plug, off and running with two monitors plus the laptop screen running.

          2. AlanT

            Re: agreed...

            Decent USB C docks do everything including charge your computer over a single USB C port. My laptop (a Dell) just has one cable plugged in when it's docked and I have a ton of stuff hanging off the dock.

            Which is not to say the difficulties with USB C docks other people are noting aren't real - driver and firmware for a lot of docks have been awful. It feels like things were much worse 18 months ago, though.

          3. HPCJohn

            Re: agreed...

            DadD sorry - but you can power through a USB-C dock which has power passthrough.

            I have a lovely HP Sprctre laptop. One connector to a dinky sized shiny metal Hyperdrive hub, and the laptop gets power, an external HDMI monitor connection, and ordinary USB slots.

            https://www.hypershop.com/collections/usb-type-c/products/hyperdrive-usb-type-c-hub-with-4k-hdmi-support

            Your point about long term viability of the USB-C connector may be valid. However a quick Google reveals they are rated to 10 000 connect/disconnect cycles.

            https://www.anandtech.com/show/8377/usb-typec-connector-specifications-finalized

            USB-C is NOT cheaply engineered - you need a positive 'click' to seat it home.

  8. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Again, the important features are not in there

    I mean, yes 8 Gigabytes of RAM should be standard by now even my trusty old X200 has those.

    What's more usefull, however are things like the Thinklight. It's something so insanely simple and usefull, I have no idea why it's not standard on all laptops. Any patents should have expired by now.

    Instead manufacturers focus on making the devices thinner and thinner. Something that may be usefull if you want to steal them (more will fit into your bag), but really is irrelevant when using them.

    1. I am the liquor

      Re: Again, the important features are not in there

      Ah, the thinklight. Sadly missing on the latest Thinkpads.

      I don't think patents can have been an issue on that feature. I remember seeing a Dell that had something similar some years ago. In a way it was better than the IBM version, because you turned it on with a physical switch next to the light, instead of playing a chord on the keyboard.

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: thinklight

        I prefer bumps on F and J.

  9. Peter Ford
    Linux

    RAM? Overrated...

    My little old HP EliteBook has a quad-core i7, an 256GB SSD and 4GB RAM.

    It works fine, running a full Apache-PHP-PostgreSQL stack, NetBeans IDE and usually several browsers. The fan runs hard if I start up Candy Crush in a browser, but the memory is never an issue.

    Of course, it's not having to stagger under the weight of Windows 10...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: RAM? Overrated...

      "Of course, it's not having to stagger under the weight of Windows 10..."

      You dont mention which distro you are running, and ypu might not like Windows, but fyi Windows 10 outperforms say Unbuntu on most benchmarks. Particularly on low end hardware! And it has significantly longer battery life on laptops.

  10. joed Silver badge

    "HP's new toy is "Sure View", a software-driven privacy shield that dithers a laptop's display to narrow the angles from which it can be seen." - not really needed with the quality of their laptop screens. I bet it will also screw users' eyesight.

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Holmes

      Sure

      "HP's new toy is "Sure View", a software-driven privacy shield that dithers a laptop's display to narrow the angles from which it can be seen." - not really needed with the quality of their laptop screens. I bet it will also screw users' eyesight.

      The Reg author is wrong, Sure View is hardware-based solution HP made with 3M. Whether the Fn+F2 toggle works with e.g. Linux I cannot say, but this definitely isn't just "software magic".

      Sure View has been available since some 2016 models, this is just a new iteration of the tech. I have clients who use separately bought privacy screens and this could be quite handy for those users should they buy new laptops.

  11. adam payne Silver badge

    USB C docks, oh how I hate mine.

    Come back to laptop after 10 - 15 minutes the USB drives plugged into it aren't seen by Windows any more. Unplug and plug back in and as is well.

    Unplug dock from laptop and after a few hours get a blue screen.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Isn’t that more the fault of Windows than USB-C docks? Get a real OS.

    2. TonyJ Silver badge

      Come back to laptop after 10 - 15 minutes the USB drives plugged into it aren't seen by Windows any more. Unplug and plug back in and as is well.

      Check device manager.

      Probably has the little "Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power" box checked, under the Power Management tab.

  12. Spanners Silver badge
    Linux

    But there is still little use for laptops.

    A desktop PC can have a nice big screen to avoid eye strain, proper mouse and keyboard to avoid RSI and performance over cost to leave a laptop in the dust.

    "But laptops are so much easier to move around." And tablets* are so much easier again. With part of the money saved from the cost of laptop, Dock, screens, mouse KB etc, you can spend a few hundred pounds on a nice tablet so that you can RDP back into your desktop PC. You will be less of a mugging tablet or information governance risk and you will still have saved money and saved shifting a laptop and power supply around.

    Yes, there are jobs that need laptops. They are getting more and more scarce. You can use VPNs with them. You want to check how your AWS is doing? Use a tablet. You want to look at that Legacy Server? Tablet again. You want to connect to your desktop and do something for a few hours? Your tablet will do that better than a laptop because it can run for longer. That's why you had to take that big PSU with you all the time. If you do want to keep it handy for your tablet, it's probably in your breifcase in case your phone needs it anyway.

    *I said tablet. If you 'have to' use your iPad for a tablet, you probably have one already. They can do most of what a reasonably modern Android tablet can do so you don't even need to buy anything else.

    1. Boothy

      Re: But there is still little use for laptops.

      Desktops are only usable if you have a fixed desk.

      I use one at home (gamer, and WFH sometimes), but at work we don't have fixed desks, and many don't even have a fixed office location.

      Work on project A, go sit with that team, work on project B, ok go sit over there now instead, and this isn't just in my company, most of our clients all work in the same way, all using hot desks and dynamic teams.

      Currently, in my company, the only people who have desktops are 1st line support people, are those are basically glorified terminals, that get a hard reset on every boot up.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: But there is still little use for laptops.

      I spend a few hours a week waiting for my daughters at various sporting events and the most useful tool I have is a little HP mini 210 which runs for 5 or 6 hours on batteries and fits between my belly and the steering wheel comfortably so when I'm stuck in the car up to a couple of hours I can get some work done. Its got a keyboard so it fucks off a tablet by several orders of magnitude. It only cost me £20. At home I live in a beanbag with an i7 8 core 17"laptop jobbie that I occasionally set screaming with some AI, stellar simulation or massive compilation.

      I have yet to find a use for a tablet other than browsing that doesnt have me reaching for a laptop because its a far better experience if you're not just in receiving mode.

      1. Boothy

        Re: But there is still little use for laptops.

        For me:

        Tablet : Checking, but not replying to email. Reading, some web browsing, small amount of mobile gaming, checking news and weather, doing searches on the Sky box (rather then using the remote).

        As soon as I need to type more than a word or two (i.e. anything beyond simple searches etc) I open the Chromebook.

        If I need the Internet for more than an hour, or want to do anything productive, so App development, gaming, finances, images, video etc. I switch to Desktop, in a proper chair, at a desk, with a proper keyboard and mouse.

        At work, I use laptops (multiple due to client requirements, mix of Windows and Linux).

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    why would i want to block the cam? i want the whole world to see my naked body in all its glory.

  14. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Shields? No!

    It was only when I was dismantling my old laptop for some bits I found a couple of sockets I'd completely forgotten about. Only visible from the inside!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shields? No!

      tell us much more Tom..

  15. AJ MacLeod

    Those other form factors aren't what they seem

    Have a closer look at those proper sized desktops (i.e. mid tower.) Unless you want to pay for a high end workstation class machine, more and more of these office grade towers are just laptop / small form factor components awkwardly shoved into a massive empty box.

    I like proper tower PCs as the standard components are much easier to keep basic replacements in stock for - (e.g. one ATX PSU will fit vast arrays of PCs from brand new to well over a decade ago)

    What is the point in a standard sized box if you can't put standard components into it?

  16. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Deja vu

    broken Lenovo machines can emit an audio tone that, when deciphered by an app, reveals the nature of hardware faults and even a machine's serial number.

    Wow. They've invented BIOS beep codes.

    1. psychonaut

      Re: Deja vu

      yeah, i was thinking that too!

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Deja vu

        Morse?

  17. JohnFen Silver badge

    Plastic shields, huh?

    I've found that a small square of electrical tape is less obtrusive.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Plastic shields, huh?

      But doesn't that leave a sticky residue that can travel down to the screen and so on?

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Plastic shields, huh?

        I've been using the electrical tape for years now, and haven't had that problem yet. The problem that I do have is that the tape loses its stickiness over time and must be occasionally replaced. This probably varies according to the brand of tape, though (I buy electrical tape purely based on price).

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Plastic shields, huh?

          You see, I have BOTH problems. The electrical tape loses its stickyness because it transfers to the camera...and then starts creeping down to the screen, especially if it gets hots.

          Plus, there's no assurance the tape is opaque in the infrared as well as the visible.

          1. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: Plastic shields, huh?

            Ah, well, then my solution isn't so great for you.

            In terms of infrared opacity -- who cares? What matters is whether or not the camera on your laptop can see through it, and that's very easy to test. If you want to be extra sure, then take a picture through your laptop camera and manipulate it in some photo imaging software (such as Gimp) to see if you can extract details not readily visible at casual inspection.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Plastic shields, huh?

              You can get surprising detail from an IR photo (it's often used to measure depth), and you'll never know it because the ability is masked by the processing chip.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Plastic shields, huh?

        No. Buy quality tape.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dell BIOS

    My Dell has the option of disabling webcam and microphone (among other things) in the BIOS.

    Although I have never tested to see if this works or if it would stop a VM running on the laptop from using them?

    (But then there is that pesky Intel Management engine running on top that makes the shutter/tape more trustworthy)

    :-(

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