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I am not responsible if your devices send you back in time, explodes, implodes, bricks or flies into space from the use of any software I put up.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Acer Aspire 4740G Review

There is 1 confirmed bug on the Acer Aspire 4740/4740G Insyde EFI Firmware.
Bug 1:
DEP is disabled due to firmware bug.
This will have potential security implications on this laptop.
Update: Acer has already fixed it with a firmware update.


Bug 2:
They didn't remap the memory properly resulting in not all 4GB fully utilised. By rights if they are not going to utilise Intel HD Graphics they should have allocated 0MB to the Intel Graphics DVMT(or let user decide by enabling the menu in EFI setup menu).

I got my hands on one of the newer Acer Laptop: Acer Aspire 4740G
This is a rather cheap laptop with rather good specifications.
I won't be posting any picture of this laptop as you can google how it looks yourself.
To me performance is a more vital information source.
The specifications are as follows:

Operating System
Processor & Chipset
  • Intel® Core i3-330M processor (2.26 GHz, DDR3 1066 MHz, 3 MB L3 cache), supporting Intel® 64 architecture, Intel® Smart Cache
  • Mobile Intel® HM55 Express Chipset
Memory
  • Up to 4 GB of DDR3 memory
Optical media drive
  • 8X DVD-Super Multi double-layer drive
Storage
  • Up to 640GB hard disk drive
  • Multi-in-1 card reader, supporting Secure Digital™ (SD), MultiMediaCard (MMC), Memory Stick® (MS), Memory Stick PRO™ (MS PRO), xD-Picture Card™ (xD)
Display
  • 14" HD 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, Acer CineCrystal™ LED-backlit TFT LCD, supporting simultaneous multi-window viewing via Acer GridVista™
  • 16:9 aspect ratio
  • 8 ms response time
Graphics
  • NVIDIA® GeForce® 310M with 512 MB of dedicated DDR3 VRAM, supporting NVIDIA® CUDA™, PhysX™, PureVideo® HD technology, OpenEXR High Dynamic-Range (HDR) technology, Shader Model 4.0, Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1
  • Dual independent display support
  • 16.7 million colors
  • MPEG-2/DVD decoding
  • WMV9 (VC-1) and H.264 (AVC) decoding
  • HDMI™ (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) with HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) support
Audio
  • Dolby®-optimized surround sound system with two built-in stereo speakers
  • Optimized 3rd Generation Dolby Home Theater®7 audio enhancement, featuring Dolby® Digital Live, Dolby® Pro Logic® IIx, Dolby® Headphone, Dolby® Natural Bass and Dolby® Sound Space Expander, Dolby® Audio Optimization, Dolby® High Frequency Enhancer technologies
  • True5.1-channel surround sound output
  • High-definition audio support
  • S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) support for digital speakers
  • MS-Sound compatible
  • Acer PureZone technology with two built-in stereo microphones, featuring beam forming, echo cancellation, dynamic gain control (TBC), and noise suppression technologies
Communication
  • Acer Video Conference1, featuring:
    • Acer Crystal Eye webcam with 640 x 480 resolution
    • Acer PureZone technology
  • Acer InviLink™ Nplify™3 802.11b/g/Draft-N Wi-Fi CERTIFIED® network connection, supporting Acer SignalUp™ wireless technology or
  • Intel® Centrino® Advance-N 6200 a/g/n Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ network connection with Acer Nplify™, supporting Acer SignalUp™ wireless technology, and featuring MIMO technology
  • Bluetooth® 2.1+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
  • Gigabit Ethernet, Wake-on-LAN ready
  • 56K ITU V.92 with PTT approval12, Wake-on-Ring ready
I/O Interfaces
  • Multi-in-1 card reader (SD™, MMC, MS, MS PRO, xD)
  • HDMI™ port with HDCP support
  • Three USB 2.0 ports
  • External display (VGA) port
  • Headphone/speaker/line-out jack with S/PDIF support
  • Microphone-in jack
  • Line-in jack
  • Ethernet (RJ-45) port
  • Modem (RJ-11) port
  • DC-in jack for AC adapter
Security
  • Acer Bio-Protection fingerprint solution, featuring Windows® logon, computer protection, FingerLaunch, ProfileLaunch, MusicLaunch, Password Bank, MyLaunch, FingerNav
  • BIOS user, supervisor, HDD passwords
  • Kensington lock slot
Power supply and battery
  • ACPI 3.0 CPU power management standard: supports Standby and Hibernation power-saving modes
  • 48.8 W 4400 mAh 6-cell Li-ion battery pack: • 3-hour battery life
  • 3-pin 65 W AC adapter
  • Energy Star®
Keyboard & Special Controls
  • 86-/87-/91-key keyboard, with inverted "T" cursor layout
  • Multi-gesture touchpad pointing device supporting:
    •Circular-motion scrolling •Pinch-action zoom •Page flip
  • 10 function keys, four cursor keys, two Windows® keys, hotkey controls, independent standard numeric keypad, international language support,
  • Easy-launch buttons: WLAN, Bluetooth®, programmable key, file backup, volume up, volume down, touchpad lock
  • Media control keys (printed on keyboard): play/pause, stop, previous, next
Weight and dimensions
  • 342 (W) x 239 (D) x 23/38.6 (H) mm (13.4 x 9.4 x 0.9/1.5 inches)
  • 2.3 kg with 6-cell battery
Software
  • Acer Arcade™ Deluxe featuring Cinema, Album, Music, HomeMedia, Online Media
  • Acer Bio-Protection
  • Acer Crystal Eye
  • Acer GridVista™
  • Acer GameZone
  • Acer Game Console
  • Acer Launch Manager
  • Acer Backup Management
  • Acer ePower Management
  • Acer Recovery Management
  • Adobe® Reader®
  • Adobe Flash® Player
  • Google Toolbar™
  • Google Desktop™
  • McAfee® Internet Security Suite Trial
  • NTI Media Maker™
  • Microsoft® Works with Office Home and Student 2007 Trial
  • Microsoft® Windows Live™ Essentials
Warranty
  • One-year International Travelers Warranty (ITW)
Here is a more detailed specification from probing the hardware with Everest:

CPU Properties:



CPU Type   2x , 2133 MHz



Instruction Set   x86, x86-64, MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE4.1, SSE4.2



Original Clock   2133 MHz



L2 Cache   256 KB (Asynchronous)
 


Multi CPU (HyperThreading, Actual No. of Cores:2):



CPU #1   Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU M 330 @ 2.13GHz, 2128 MHz



CPU #2   Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU M 330 @ 2.13GHz, 2128 MHz



CPU #3   Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU M 330 @ 2.13GHz, 2128 MHz



CPU #4   Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU M 330 @ 2.13GHz, 2128 MHz




Video Adapter Properties:



Device Description   NVIDIA GeForce 310M



Adapter String   GeForce 310M



BIOS String   Version 70.18.3f.0.a



Chip Type   GeForce 310M



DAC Type   Integrated RAMDAC



Driver Date   16/3/2010



Driver Version   8.17.11.9716 - nVIDIA ForceWare 197.16



Driver Provider   NVIDIA



Memory Size   512 MB
Monitor Properties:



Monitor Name   Generic PnP Monitor [NoDB]



Monitor ID   AUO183C



Manufacturer   B140XW01 V8



Manufacture Date   Week 1 / 2009



Serial Number   None



Max. Visible Display Size   31 cm x 17 cm (13.9")



Picture Aspect Ratio   17:9



Gamma   2.20



DPMS Mode Support   None
Harddisk Controller:



Driver Description   Intel(R) 5 Series 4 Port SATA AHCI Controller



Driver Date   3/3/2010



Driver Version   9.6.0.1014



Driver Provider   Intel



INF File   oem8.inf
Windows Experience Index

Note: The harddisk is a upgraded WD BEKT 7200RPM 16MB Buffer Drive the default 5K500 Hitachi Drive doesn't give as much performance
3D Mark 06 Scores


CPU
The New Arrandale CPU i330 M330 (the lowest end)
The Throttling States is as follows:
Lowest Frequency: 1200MHZ Multiplier: x9.0  
(In between Multiplier changes from x9.0 to x16.0 depending on CPU Usage thus conserving power,
however sometimes it hits x7.0 Multiplier could be a bug,
QPI is fixed and no more Front Side Bus)
Maximium Frequency: 2100MHZ Multiplier: x16.0

It is Physically a Dual Core CPU with 2 Hyperthreading Cores so 4 Logical Cores in Total

Graphics SubSystem
Note: 
There maybe some errors regarding PhysX. Official Statement about PhysX is only 32 CUDA Cores GPUs are supported however G 310M only has 16 CUDA Cores. But I have tested AS4740G and it DOES support PhysX using the latest Nvidia 257.21 driver but I wouldn't count on the performance.
 
GPU is soldered to the board as VGA BIOS/Firmware cannot be read by GPUZ the normal way. Also Soldered GPUs can reduce the pricing of the laptop therefore this can explain the cheap price of Acer Aspire 4740G.
Below is a picture of the GPU and CPU
Note GPU is soldered onto the mainboard therefore NOT UPGRADEABLE.
CPU is a PGA Socket hence UPGRADEABLE.



Although the laptop has Intel HD Graphics onboard the CPU (see the 2 die above?), it is not activated or detected, you can pray that Acer will release a BIOS, no sorry EFI Firmware that will unlock Optimus or Switchable Graphics BUT from my past experience with Acer chances are as good as striking lottery...
New:
IRONLAKE-MOBILEd.0.Ä.C.0...................BIOS_DATA_BLOCK ˜...”.þê..d....1914Intel(R)Ironlake Mobile PCI Accelerated SVGA BIOS..Build Number: 1914 PC 14.34  10/15/2009  11:37:51..DECOMPILATION OR DISASSEMBLY PROHIBITED..............Co
I found the above VGA ROM (IRONLAKE is the Intel Code Name for Intel HD Graphics onboard the Intel Core iX CPU) data inside the BIOS dump which indicate Acer Aspire 4740G CAN ACTUALLY SUPPORT switchable except Acer disabled the ability in the EFI/BIOS.

Temperature Dissipation Test
This is a new Test I devised to measure how well the unit dissipate heat it can produce at maximium performance:

My opinion on this result is that this Acer Aspire 4740G handles heat pretty decently.
Considering that Acer uses Thermal pad on the GPU this is a very good result.
I estimate if the thermal pad is replaced by a Copper Shim temperature will fall by a good 10 degrees.
Only real Tests like the one I conducted can accurately determine if a particular model potentially has thermal issues, not old grandmother stories like how my Acer from 10 years ago overheat therefore all Acer overheat(This is a flawed argument by the way).
Anyway a computer that cannot dissipate the heat it produces is as good as a man who can't wipe his own backside (Acer Aspire 4530), so this laptop does pretty well.


Kombustor rate of temperature rise graph:


3 PowerMizer States are as shown below:

CUDA Capabilities as shown below:
It seems to indicates a decent CUDA Device.


Power Consumption Max Load Mode (Using JouleMeter from Microsoft Research)

 Power Consumption Idle Mode(JouleMeter from Microsoft Research)


So there you go all the information you need to consider this laptop for usage.

If you know how to reinstall an Operating System, always do a clean install for better performance.
Why, because if you go Windows Hardware Developer Central there is a report that stated over 80% of OEM Imaged Computers has lousier performance than a Clean Windows Installation. 
I believe this is due to OEM Crap pre-installed in the computers.
Remember to run idle task and defragment the harddisk so AFTER installing all drivers to ensure optimal performance.
If you want to do a clean install you can use the list below as a driver checklist.
Or click here for links to latest greatest driver. 
  1. Intel Chipset Driver
  2. Intel Rapid Storage Driver
  3. Intel Management Engine
  4. Nvidia Graphics Driver
  5. Nvidia High Definition Audio Driver
  6. Realtek High Definition Audio Driver
  7. Acer Launch Manager
  8. BroadCom Bluetooth Driver
  9. Finger Print Driver (Available from Windows Updates)
  10. SuYin/Chicony WebCam Driver
  11. Conexant Modem Driver
  12. Synaptics/ALP Touchpad Driver
  13. Intel Management Engine Controller
  14. BroadCom NetLink LAN Driver
  15. Atheros/Intel Wireless Driver
  16. Realtek Card Reader Driver
  17. Acer Smart Power Manager & Optical Driver Power Manager
Conclusion about whats great and what sucks
What's Great:
1)This laptop although armed with the lowest end Core i3 Processor can even outmuscle any AMD Turion II Mobile Processor so you might want to reconsider buying any Turion II laptops.
It says something when you find a Turion II M 660 Flagship Processor can't beat the lowest end Intel Core i3 330M Processor. It says even more when the Turion II equiped laptop (4540G) cost more than this laptop (4740G).
2)The Audio is fantastic: Subwoofer + Bass on a 14 inch laptop (5.1 Surround Sound See Below)
You need to use MSI Audio Drivers to get the real potential. It comes with a 5 Ohm 2 Watt speaker instead of the usual 4 Ohm 2 Watt. New Realtek Driver Audio Mod for Better Sound


3)Solid hinge from older Gemstone.
4)Cheap price for a Intel/Nvidia combo laptop.
Remember Nvidia Always has better drivers than ATi on both Linux and Windows.
5)Awesome heat vent much better than previous designs.
6)Easy to access bottom panel for fast component upgrades
7)Ultra Slient Exhaust Fan even when spinning at Full Speed.

What Sucks
1)The touchpad looks silly because when you use 2 finger scroll, the etches for the Touchpad 1 Finger slide seems pointless
2)Sound is not so good maybe because the drivers have not yet been stably corrected.
3)Fingerprint Magnet Monitor bezel.
4)WebCam driver image quality not quite there, needs better drivers.

What's Controversial
1)The new 14 inch form factor has lower height but broader breath, personally I like it as this gives it a more compact look like a 13 inch which give better mobility but the total screen area is conserved.
2)Keyboard needs some getting use to (Sort of VAIO/Macbook style keyboard I am too used to the old Acer Style)
3)Battery life is around 3 hrs on the default battery but I know it is possible to buy 12 Cell Batteries on Ebay to equip this laptop.
4)RW-Everything reported this laptop can support up to 16GB after BIOS data analysis but only 2 Physical Slots are available so it should take a Max of 8GB only.

Bottomline:
I don't think anyone can find an Arrandale Based Laptop with decent Nvidia Graphics for the same price Acer placed on this laptop so yea this is it.

If you already own this laptop you might be interested in Optimizing the System Disk & Touchpad Configuration and installing OpenSUSE on AS4740

Changing the BackUp Button to open other applications (Using Zune as an Example)
Note: This will only work if you install the LauchManager from Acer Aspire 4540G.
<------------------(Start Copying after this Line)------------------>

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Compal\LManager\Settings\Buttons\Backup]
"Command"="C:\\Program Files\\Zune\\Zune.exe"
"Command Type"="1"
"Label"="Zune"
"Remote Code"="C008"
"Description"="Zune Media Player"
"Configable"="1"
<---------------------(Stop Copying Before this line)------------------------->


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

EFI Vs BIOS

For those people who read "Tech News" a lot I hope when you read them you take them (a fact all Tech News") with a pinch of salt and go find out about the real thing instead otherwise you will end up reading a load of crap like this.

Personally I prefer reading from the Developers themselves (who know about it better than they do?).

Here is a REAL article detailing EFI and BIOS.

I will just simplify certain concepts in the article.
1)UEFI supports increased drive partition size by using GPT (No MBR hacks)

2)Standardised design so your system can boot many different OS out of box. BIOS had a lot of different implementations by Phoenix, AMI and Award.

3)UEFI is actually a mini-OS it is coded in C therefore can run applications complied to run on EFI so it is possible to do without drivers.

4)EFI adds IPv6 to network boot, standardising networks.

Nothing to do with Fancy GUI or BIOS replacing firmware, rather a next step in BIOS evolution.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Weaning off Windows Xp

This article is dedicated to "Techies" who think they can get better performance by "upgrading" from Windows 7 to Windows Xp on their new laptops.
In fact they are downgrading from Windows 7 to Windows Xp.
Personally I think it is not a smart idea there are many reasons.

1)Windows 7 support ACPI 3.0 which is what programmed in many EFI of new laptops. Windows Xp doesn't support ACPI 3.0 so it will revert to older ACPI versions when installed so you lose some advance power optimization with Windows Xp.

2)Driver support you have to spend time hunting down obselete drivers for Windows Xp and Microsoft no longer provides updates to Windows Xp (Except Security Holes).

3)Legacy Functionality in Xp compared to Native Support in Windows 7.
When Xp was out WiFi was still not mainstream, Microsoft enabled WiFi by including a Client in 1 of their Service Packs. It is a hack to emulate Wireless Device as a Ethernet Device so WiFi can be used.
Windows 7 has WiFi Client built in so it is more of a part of OS than a dirty hack. Besides WiFi many features in Windows 7 is native while an add on in Windows Xp.

4)Security, UAC love it or hate it UAC provides better configuration of policy and security settings compared to Windows Xp.

5)For those new processors Windows 7 include NUMA support. You realise Intel and AMD removed the legacy Front Side Bus (FSB) and introduced their high bandwidth bus (Intel-QPI Quick Path Interconnect, AMD-HT HyperTransport) because FSB limits CPU scalability performance improvement.

It is a known fact x86 CPUs get better performance and power saving by increasing the number of processing cores rather than increasing the frequency so by reverting to Window Xp you are removing NUMA optimization from your laptop.

6)Windows 7 utilises the GPU to render Desktop so CPU can be left idle for more responsiveness. While Windows Xp driver architecture doesn't allow this so you are still using CPU to render the desktop.

7)Windows 7 has a finer grained power control policy than Windows Xp so you can save more power in Windows 7 than Xp it is a proven fact just google for some benchmark. In other words Windows 7 has better power efficiency.

Lastly the amount of changes from Windows Xp to Windows Vista to Windows 7 is so great that my blog can't cover everything.

If you still insist by installing Window Xp you get better performance let me ask you this: What is most important in an OS?
Pure Performance? If so you must as well install Windows NT on your Hardware it will practically fly along but why not?

Because a good OS is one that balance performance as well as functionality. Sure Windows Xp performs in someways because it has less services, less executable code but compare this to Window 7 where you get both performance and feature if you do a clean install, which is better?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Acer Aspire 4551G

The new update to the Acer Aspire 4540 is out.
It runs the first Mobile Phenom Quad Core N930 in the highest SKU version.


How hot it might get when coupled with the Radeon 5650HD I don't know, but personally I feel it will get really hot and power hungry so decide carefully what are your needs before purchasing it.

More Information about the new Processors here.

Users who bought this laptop might want to undervolt the processor to conserve power and reduce thermal output.

Expect the new Acer Aspire 45XX series which are emerging to have the same characteristics.

Simple Way To Improve Laptop Battery Life For Arrandale CPU

There is actually a simple way to improve Mobility Life on Laptop with the Mobile Core i3/5/7 CPU.
Windows Vista/7 Power Plans have often been overlooked.
If you checked the new Arrandale CPUS they have unique characteristics.
They have multiple Power-States that varies by multiplier so any Power State you set will be available instead of only having 3 fixed discrete Power States.
So 1 advantage you can take of this is to limit the Maximum Processor state in Windows 7 Advance Power plan.

I am sure many of you don't game on a battery supply therefore on Mobile usage on Battery usually all work that is done is usually Office Typing and WebSurfing that do not require the processor to run at maximum capability.
The good part about Arrandale is you gain what you set.


Meaning when you set 40% Maximium Processor state on battery the CPU clocks exactly at 40% of Max Processor state instead of a lower Power State thus making this a viable solution to power saving.


Formula: Core Speed = Bus Speed X Multiplier

On older Processors like the Core 2 Duo and the Turion II and Turion I this is not a good solution because when you set at X% the processor will lock its maximum at the Power State rounded of to the nearest Power state so you encounter more performance penalty. For the Core i3 330M this is not an issue because the multiplier scales very well as show below the frequency varies linearly.

Refer to the scaling comparison below to see the difference