Monthly Archives: February 2011

How Thunderbolt Could Hook Up Notebooks With Powerful Peripherals

Intel’s new high-speed port technology is called Thunderbolt. But what is it, exactly?

Think of Thunderbolt (formerly code named “Light Peak”) as two cables in one. One is a fast PCI Express cable for transferring data, and the other is DisplayPort, for driving an external display.

A Thunderbolt cable is capable of delivering data between a computer and a peripheral (say, an external hard drive) at 10 Gbps in either direction, Intel claims. That’s fast enough to transfer a full-length HD movie in under 30 seconds.

It’s also 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and 20 times faster than USB 2.0, according to Apple.

Because a ThunderBolt connector is also a DisplayPort connection, that means a single port on a notebook — such as the new MacBook Pros, which have Thunderbolt ports — can connect to an external monitor, which in turn can connect to storage devices via PCI Express. We call this “daisy-chaining” devices.

In theory, the monitor could also connect to a keyboard, mouse, additional displays and even a gigabit ethernet connection, with all the data for those peripherals going through the single Thunderbolt cable connecting the monitor and the notebook. The makers of these hardware devices simply need to add a small Intel chip to decode the Thunderbolt signal into its PCI Express and DisplayPort signals.

“All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common connector, and let individuals simply daisy-chain their devices one after another, connected by electrical or optical cables,” Intel’s press release states.

In short, a monitor could become a hub for PCIe peripherals to which you can easily dock your notebook with a single cable connection. For that to work, of course, you’ll need a Thunderbolt-compatible monitor — and none currently exist.

Fortunately for Mac users, Thunderbolt plugs have the same shape as the Mini DisplayPort connectors in all recent Macs, and it’s compatible with them, so you can plug an older monitor into a new Thunderbolt port (even using a DVI, HDMI or VGA adapter) and it will still work. You won’t have a data channel, but the video connection will function.

In the longer term, the speed of the PCI Express bus makes it possible for a variety of devices to be connected through simple, external cables rather than internal expansion cards, greatly increasing the expandability of notebooks and even netbooks. Video-capture devices, RAID arrays and who knows what will all be easy to add simply by plugging in a Thunderbolt port.

For now, Apple is the only company we know of offering Thunderbolt-compatible gadgets. Intel lists several other partners who will be using the standard, including storage makers LaCie and Western Digital, and says it is working with other companies to bring the technology to “computers, displays, storage devices, audio/video devices, cameras, docking stations and more.”

Originally published on Wired.com: How Thunderbolt Could Hook Up Notebooks With Powerful Peripherals | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Video: Internet, Gadgets Make Corvette Even More Awesome

Within a few years, your car may become a hub of interconnected devices, media and online services.

And you thought it was for getting you around town.

I recently spent a little time in a tricked-out 2009 Corvette whose dashboard included some proof-of-concept technology to integrate the car with a smartphone, a tablet, and the internet.

The console was created by QNX, the company that makes the operating system that underlies GM’s OnStar systems, Toyota’s upcoming Entune, and other vehicles. It’s similar to these systems, except it extends them by adding even more integration with the consumer devices you’re carrying.

In this car, the dashboard can interact with other devices in your car, such as your iPhone, a BlackBerry, or RIM’s upcoming tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook. It can play media from all of the above, or connect to the internet (via 3G) to stream music from Pandora.

Because QNX also makes the operating system underlying the PlayBook, there’s also a possibility that developers can create software for your car as easily as they can for the tablet, using HTML5, Java and other tools familiar to app developers.

In this video, I take a look at some of the ways cars will soon gain even more sophisticated connectivity.

Originally published on Wired: Video: Internet, Gadgets Make Corvette Even More Awesome | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Hands-On: Eccentric YikeBike Gives Segway a Run for Its Money

When the tentacled aliens from Gliese 581g arrive on Earth, they’ll probably be riding a YikeBike.

At least, that’s how the YikeBike looks. In reality, it’s made for the posteriors of humans, not the glistening thoraxes of our future Gliesean overlords. It’s the most compact electric bicycle ever made, its creators claim, and it looks the way it does because they threw out every preconception about the way bikes are supposed to look.

Instead, they stripped the YikeBike down to its essentials: One big wheel to propel you forward and one little rear wheel to stabilize your ride. It’s a design that inventor Grant Ryan, the founder of YikeBike, calls a “mini-farthing.”

We spent some time with Ryan recently, riding his strange two-wheeled contraption around the Wired parking lot. Watch the video above to see it in action. Despite its looks, it’s quite fun to ride.

Full story: Hands-On: Eccentric YikeBike Gives Segway a Run for Its Money | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Hands-On With HP’s Tiny Veer Smartphone

SAN FRANCISCO — HP’s diminutive Veer might be named that because the company wants to emphasize that it’s swerving in a different direction than most phone makers.

And it is: In a gadget season dominated by 4-inch and bigger smartphones, the webOS-based Veer looks positively petite. It feels like a small river rock in your hand, smooth and black and more pebble-like than any other recent phone. It should fit in a pants pocket as easily as a pocket knife, but without the TSA hassles.

Overall, it is about the size of a credit card, as HP’s senior vice president Jon Rubinstein claimed during Wednesday’s press conference announcing the Veer, along with the HP TouchPad and Pre 3. More accurately, it’s about the size of a stack of 10 or 12 credit cards. The screen’s much smaller, however. At 2.6 diagonal inches, it’s about the half the size of a business card. While bright, it’s definitely not big.

At 320 x 400 pixels, you’re not going to be reading Moby Dick on this screen, but it’s serviceable for looking at your calendar, reading text messages and composing e-mails. I checked out Wired’s website, which looked fine in the mobile version, but became much harder to read when we switched to the normal, full version of the site. Still, the Veer’s WebKit-based browser rendered everything faithfully.

The screen was reasonably responsive. The 800-MHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor inside isn’t anything to write home about, but it should handle basic browsing and screen work just fine.

Like other webOS phones, the Veer will serve as a mobile hotspot, providing internet access to five devices, HP promises.

HP says it will support HSPA+, which is the GSM version of 3G wireless technology, so expect the U.S. carrier to be either AT&T or T-Mobile.

A tiny keyboard slides out below the screen — and I mean tiny. It has some of the smallest buttons I’ve ever laid thumbs on. It feels like typing on a bundle of pinheads. At that size it’s of course easy to mistype (“Wited.com” instead of “Wired.com”), but it’s surprisingly usable given the dimensions.

Overall the Veer feels a bit like the Kin One, Microsoft’s failed (but cute) social phone, which debuted last year. HP has already avoided one of the Kin’s fatal flaws by basing the Veer on webOS, which has a small but existent app market (and promises to become even more useful through interconnections with webOS on the TouchPad later this year).

It’s still unclear whether HP will avoid the Kin’s other fatal flaw: price. HP did not announce a price for the Veer, but if it comes in at $50 or $100 with a reasonably cheap data contract, this could be a great phone for teenagers, social butterflies and anyone who wants basic connectivity without messing up the lines of their stylish threads.

Full story: Hands-On With HP’s Tiny Veer Smartphone | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Vintage Posters Highlight a Century of Innovation

It may be hard to believe as you read Wired on your iPad, but heating oil and metal plumbing pipes were hot tech topics just 100 years ago.

They were businesses, too, on which inventors pinned their hopes and corporations placed their bets in the form of factories, salesmen, and marketing budgets.

For a peek inside 100 years of cutting-edge inventions, take a look at this gallery of 20th-century advertisements. They show how products that we take for granted today, like bicycles, electric trains and radios, were once strange and wonderful enough that they needed bold, artistic introductions.

The posters, from an upcoming exhibition by the International Vintage Poster Dealers Association, show a century of massive change in technology, from plumbing to iPods. They also provide a glimpse of changing design trends: Bare-breasted beauties gave way to stark abstractions, which were succeeded by eye-catching color photos, which were replaced with primary-color silhouettes.

For more images and background, see the online  exhibit, titled “Innovations in Technology: From the Turn of the Century to Today.”

full story: Vintage Posters Highlight a Century of Innovation | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

No Easy Fixes as Internet Runs Out of Addresses

The internet has run out of room.

Like a prairie with no more vacant land to homestead or a hip area code with no more cellphone numbers, the pool of available numeric internet addresses has been completely allocated as of Thursday (.pdf).

With that, the frontier has closed. The internet — in its current form — is now completely colonized. All that’s left is to divide the allocated properties into ever-smaller portions, or to start trading what’s already been assigned.

This change will have no immediate effect on ordinary people, but will eventually force any company that wants to be on the internet to reckon with a complicated and potentially expensive technology transition.

It could also introduce widespread delays and other strange behavior into the internet at large.

“In a sense the net’s going to get stickier,” says John Heidemann, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California who has done a survey of the distribution of internet addresses (shown above). “It’ll be harder to do things that used to be easy.”

Full story: No Easy Fixes as Internet Runs Out of Addresses | Epicenter | Wired.com.