Tag Archive for Group Test

PC Pro, Issue 297

PC Pro Issue 297The Labs Test in this month’s PC Pro is something of a bumper one: I ran a whopping 14 miniature PCs, from a cleverly cased Raspberry Pi up to a behemoth of a system squeezing in an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, through a gamut of tests including size and weight, power draw, productivity and gaming benchmarks to see which would come out on top.

The work of a solid few weeks, the Labs saw system after system bouncing onto and off the test bench. As well as requiring the actual testing, all photography was carried out in-house – with thanks to my wife, who served as a hand model for the article’s hero shot – with each system photographed from all angles and internally, plus a smart isometric view in which the scale is maintained so the reader can easily compare the relative sizes of each machine on test. Given that the feature is about miniature PCs, such easy at-a-glance comparison is key to knowing which machine meets the readers’ personal requirements.

A Labs Test like this wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation of a range of companies, of course, and I’d like to thank the suppliers of machines for the test: ASRock, Asus, Intel, Mini-ITX.com, Lenovo, QuietPC, Raspberry Pi, and Shuttle. Additional thanks go to Intel, Nvidia, and Overclockers UK, who provided components required to build up the bare-bones systems on test.

As is traditional for a PC Pro Labs Test, the content is split between reviews – four 700-word focus reviews and ten 350-word supplementary reviews – and features, including an interview with Intel’s Ed Barkhuysen on the company’s modular vision for the future of computing, a buyer’s guide covering things to consider when making the move to an ultra-small-form-factor (USFF) system, a two-page features table covering everything you could want to know about each system on test, a look at external GPU (eGPU) products as a way of expanding the performance of mini-PCs, and a “View from the Labs” opinion editorial to round things out.

This feature also marks the first time the in-house PC Pro benchmark suite – which measures system performance for image editing, video playback, and multitasking workloads – has been run not only on Linux-based, rather than Windows, systems but also on a Raspberry Pi. To achieve that, I worked to port the PowerShell-based suite to the Bash shell while using the same cross-platform applications to ensure each platform can be compared as fairly as possible.

PC Pro Issue 297 is available now at all good supermarkets, newsagents, and digitally via Zinio and similar services.

Benchmarking the Raspberry Pi 3 B+

Raspberry Pi 3 B+

The launch of the shiny new Raspberry Pi 3 B+ offers a chance to revisit the entire history of the Pi family, benchmarking each device in turn from the original Raspberry Pi Model B launch board with its somewhat limited 256MB of RAM right through to the shiniest and newest board. This post collates the results from a range of different benchmarks, demonstrating how the power of the Pi has changed over the years.

If attempting to replicate the results yourself, there is one key fact to note: the Raspberry Pi has enjoyed somewhere in the range of a 30 percent performance uplift in the last couple of years through software and firmware optimisation alone; comparing the same benchmark run on a Pi using the latest Raspbian operating system today with results gathered a year or more ago will give a false reading, which is why all these results have been gathered using the same firmware and software revision.

 

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HackSpace Magazine, Issue 1

HackSpace Issue 1I’m proud as punch to announce the launch issue of HackSpace Magazine, from the creators of The MagPi Magazine, a Creative Commons-licensed monthly publication aimed firmly at the hobbyist, tinkerer, maker, and crafter community – and you’ll find a four-page head-to-head of education-centric games consoles within.

Designed to sit alongside The MagPi, which focuses on the Raspberry Pi community, HackSpace’s remit is considerably broader: you’ll find everything from features on rival single-board computers through to non-electronic projects – including, in the launch issue, tips on smoking your own bacon and building a three-foot siege weapon from wood.

My contribution to today’s launch issue is a ground-up revisit to four handheld games consoles aimed at those looking to write their own games: the Gamebuino, MAKERbuino, Creoqode 2048, and Arduboy. I’ve written about these four devices in the past for a more general audience, but for HackSpace I was free to really dive into what makes them special – and, of course, include all the latest updates and features since the last time they were reviewed.

As with The MagPi, each HackSpace Magazine issue is available on the day of release for free download under the permissive Creative Commons licence. If you’d like to read the launch copy for yourself you can simply download a PDF from the official website, while print copies are available for purchase online and from all good magazine outlets.

 

Linux User & Developer, Issue 161

Linux User & Developer Issue 161To say this month’s Linux User & Developer is a bumper issue is something of an understatement: in addition to my usual four-page news spread, you’ll find a three-strong group test of Steam Machines and a detailed step-by-step guide to building your own Linux box from a pile of parts.

First, the group test. Editor Gavin Thomas contacted me with the news that they had an Alienware Steam Machine in, and asked whether I would be able to source and review a rival device for a head-to-head. I went one better, the overachiever that I am, and thanks to the very lovely people at CyberPower and Zotac I was able to pick up a Syber and NEN to be run through their paces alongside the Alienware.

For Linux User & Developer, the Steam Machines were very new territory. The magazine has previously focused largely on professional uses for Linux, but the launch of mainstream-targeted console-beating gaming PCs running Steam OS – Valve’s gaming-centric customisation of Debian Linux – couldn’t be ignored. I started by designing a series of benchmarks which could be run across all three machines in order to provide a performance comparison, which then needed to take into account the price difference between the two entry-level machines from Alienware and CyberPower and the top-end Zotac NEN. The winner? Well, you’ll have to read the review.

A major group test like this would normally be enough, but Gavin also asked me to come up with a cover feature for the issue: building your own Linux machine. As with the group test, this issue marks the first time Linux User & Developer has strayed into the PC-building arena, and Gavin was looking for someone who could lend an expert eye to the hardware side of the feature.

After an initial hiccough with a parts supplier that let me down, the wonderful people at Overclockers UK were kind enough to loan me a shopping cart full of hardware, including an Intel Skylake processor. The specifications of the machine were kept low enough to appeal to buyers on a budget looking for a future-proof bargain, while having enough poke to ensure a pleasant experience. Naturally, the hardware was chosen specifically with Linux compatibility in mind – though the Skylake family of processors does require the Linux 4.4 kernel or newer to run at its full potential, which is covered in the software-centric second half of the feature.

Issue 161 is definitely a personal highlight, containing as it does such a large percentage of contents from my trusty keyboard. You can see the result for yourself with a trip to your local supermarket, newsagent, or through digital distribution services such as Zinio.

Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, Volume 4

Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, Volume 4The latest Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, a ‘bookazine’ from Imagine Publishing comprised of reprints from Linux User & Developer Magazine, is out now and includes my regular look at the top ten Linux distributions.

An annual feature in the magazine, Top Ten Distros is a look at the movers and shakers in the Linux world. Biased towards desktop Linux distributions, the feature requires me to make a shortlist of popular distributions – based on download figures, page traffic rankings, comments to the magazine and other metrics – and then download and test each one.

The write-up of each distro, while around half the size of a normal review, takes some time to complete: it includes facts about each distribution, comments from its developers and/or users, and snippets regarding the distribution’s history.

It’s the screenshots that take the time, however. Rather than using stock images provided by the distribution team, as some magazines might, I install each distribution into a virtual machine and set up the desktop according to a pre-set layout: the menu open on the Internet category, a video playing from Archive.org in the default player, and a calculator app open in the bottom-right.

Yes, it’s fiddly – but it provides an at-a-glance comparison between distributions that the use of stock screenshots simply can’t match.

This latest Top Ten Distros feature first appeared in Linux User & Developer Issue 122, and is now reprinted in the Linux & Open Source Genius Guide Volume 4.

Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, Volume 3

Linux & Open Source Genius Guide Volume 3Hot on the heels of Linux Tips, Tricks Apps & Hacks Volume 1 – Imagine Publishing’s latest ‘bookazine,’ gathering themed content from the company’s Linux User & Developer magazine – is Linux & Open Source Genius Guide Volume 3, which takes some of the more technical content from Linux User & Developer and repackages it for those who missed it the first time around or who prefer a meatier read.

As before, my content features prominently in the publication: a reprise of my Arduino feature from Linux User & Developer Issue 95 is included, along with all three parts of my special feature on getting started as an open-source contributor to the LibreOffice project originally published in Linux User & Developer Issue 108, Issue 109 and Issue 110.

The ‘bookazine’ also includes a whole host of my regular group tests, including Issue 112‘s look at mind mapping software, project management packages from Issue 111, CD ripping apps from Issue 110, email clients from Issue 109, password managers from Issue 107, and my annual look at the best Linux desktop distributions.

If you missed any or all of that content the first time around, Linux & Open Source Genius Guide Volume 3 is available now from the Imagine Publishing Shop.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 122

Linux User & Developer Issue 122This month’s issue of Imagine Publishing’s Linux User & Developer is bursting at the seams with my words, including a special feature of which I’m particularly proud: a piece looking at the Linux gaming market dubbed The State of Play.

First, though, there’s the cover feature: my annual look at the best Linux distributions around. For those who usually read the Windows or Mac magazines, this feature always surprises: one of the biggest strengths of the open-source world of Linux is the sheer breadth of choice available to the user. As well as general-purpose distributions, like Linux Mint, Fedora or OpenSUSE, there are distributions aimed at specific tasks like the penetration-testing BackTrack distribution, or the media-centric GeeXbox. When you’re used to having a choice of one operating system – perhaps in a handful of ‘editions’ if you’re lucky – that’s a real shock to the system.

That strength is also a weakness: with so much choice, it can be difficult to figure out which distribution is right for you. As a helping hand, each year I do a run down of the top ten Linux distributions, along with a quick look at a handful of other distributions which didn’t quite make it into the list. The rankings are based on a variety of factors – DistroWatch popularity, review scores, and whether or not it died on its backside when I installed it into a virtual machine for screenshot purposes. It’s always a popular feature, and one I enjoy even if it does take forever to document.

Aside from those seven pages, there’s also a review of the Olimex A13-OLinuXino-WiFi. Built to compete with the Raspberry Pi, designed in a matter of months and released under an open hardware licence, the OLinuXino is remarkable: for the cost of roughly two Pis, you get a Cortex-class processor with over twice the compute throughput of the ARMv6 SoC on the Pi, 512MB of RAM, integrated Wi-Fi (although a Wi-Fi-less version is available) and real USB connectivity, along with more GPIO than you can shake a script at. As to whether it’s worth the asking price, you’ll have to check out the review.

Finally, the gaming feature. Originally pitched as a look at Valve’s Steam for Linux beta, for which I was lucky enough to receive an invitation, the piece evolved into a full-length feature investigating the recent explosion of interest in Linux gaming. Featuring comment from industry giants including Valve, Croteam’s chief technical officer Alen Ladavac, and the talented Ryan C. ‘Icculus’ Gordon – the man responsible for the overwhelming majority of Linux ports including the excellent Frozen Synapse and the original Serious Sam.

Sadly, there were a few people who were unable to comment in time for the piece: a sudden unexpected Chinese trip for the chief executive and his staff meant that I was unable to get comment from Unity on its recently-launched Linux-compatible game engine, while Nvidia was struggling to get ready for the Consumer Electronics Show – where it launched the Tegra 4 chip and Project Shield games console – and was equally unable to comment in time. With luck, I’ll be able to include them in a follow-up piece when the Steam Box finally launches…

In short, it’s a beast of an issue – so grab yourself a copy from your nearest newsagent, or if you can’t be bothered to leave the house try a digital version courtesy of Zinio. Alternative purchasing methods are available through the official site.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 119

Linux User & Developer, Issue 119This month’s Linux User & Developer features my biggest work for the magazine yet: a massive ten-page test of Canonical’s Ubuntu 12.10 operating system. It also marks the first time I’ve written news articles for the magazine, taking care of the initial two-page spread to cover for a staff writer’s absence.

First, the Ubuntu 12.10 feature. Officially the biggest single feature ever run in Linux User & Developer magazine, and the major focus of the magazine’s cover, the article takes a look at Canonical’s latest Linux release in a novel manner: rather than judging the software in a vacuum, as with most reviews, it is instead compared to close rivals in a range of categories including openness, appearance, support and community engagement. The result is somewhere between a review and a group test, but on a much larger scale: a typical group test takes up five pages, where this feature takes up a massive ten.

It’s a departure from my usual features for the magazine, and something I enjoyed. It’s not strictly speaking a review, as there were no scores and no real conclusion about the quality of Ubuntu 12.10 in and of itself – but if you’re a long-time Ubuntu user or simply a distro-hopper looking for a change, I’d recommend giving it a read.

The news feature, a two-page spread at the front of the magazine, looked at three stories from the open-source world – including one which, shock horror, paints Microsoft in a reasonably positive light. I’m not going to tell you what the stories are, naturally: go and buy the magazine if you’re that curious.

Linux User & Developer Issue 119 is available now wherever you would normally buy magazines, unless it isn’t – in which case either ask the staff to order it in, or grab a digital copy via Zinio.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 112

Linux User & Developer Magazine, Issue 112This month’s Linux User & Developer magazine features my usual group test – this time looking at mind-mapping software – and a review of Synology’s 12-bay NAS box.

Hardware reviews are a very different beast to software: you need to strip the system down, investigate its components, build it back up, install it, test it, benchmark it and build up an informed opinion of precisely how the system works. With something like Synology’s NAS boxes, that’s not too difficult: the company builds its systems to be easy to take apart, and its PR team members are great at getting things back to you when they say they will. With other companies, it’s not so easy…

The group test this month looks at mind-mapping software, a subject close to my heart. When I’m planning large-scale projects, like in-depth features or books, I use mind-mapping software to help lay out the subject matter in a logical manner. There are some real stinkers out there, though, so it’s important to pick the right one to start with – data portability wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind when these packages were being developed!

More details are available over on the Linux User & Developer website.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 111

Linux User & Developer, Issue 111 coverThis month’s issue of Linux User & Developer features the full publication of my interview with Raspberry Pi co-founder Eben Upton, an extract of which has been quite happily sat at the top of the ‘Most Read’ category on the Linux User website for the past month. Additionally, my regular group test takes a look at project management apps and there’s also a review of internet kiosk distribution WebConverger in there too.

The interview with Eben was, as always, great fun. He’s a busy man, but he’s also a great guy to talk to; never afraid to make his true opinions known, he’s a brilliant interview subject and a scarily clever engineer to boot. He’s also good at giving credit where credit is due, including in his shout-outs to people like fellow Broadcom engineer and creator of the Raspberry Pi Gertboard add-on Gert van Loo.

The group test picks four of the most popular Linux-based project management tools and pits them Gantt-to-Gantt in an attempt to find the one most useful for the majority of people. It was a fairly close-run competition this time round, but sure enough one did raise its head above the others and win the coveted group test winner medal for its efforts.

Finally, the WebConverger review looks at an interesting distribution which aims to make it easy to turn old hardware into a single-use internet kiosk, complete with protections from users and a neat customisation feature. It’s also suitable for digital signage, although as I found during testing it’s not without its issues.

More information is available on the Linux User & Developer website.