Quick thoughts

A few thoughts for hardware of things I’m thinking about buying but probably shouldn’t buy.

1. WiiU – Would be pretty nice to have for some of the Wii HD ports, but it’s not very likely for me to have time to play with this device and I don’t know how much I could use the tablet on its own and how much I would be need the screen for.

2. PspGo – WOuld be pretty nice to have a thin and light Psp to carry around with for NES / SNES / GBC / GBA / PSX / PSP games. Problem is that I don’t know how well the controls perform with the analog stick. And while it would be a cool device to have and play around with, i’m not sure how much of a practical device it would be.

3. PsVita – I have a black PsVita with a broken right analog stick. The device works well enough and it’s a little tempting to buy a new white model that works to be able to play Psp and PsVita games. The weird thing about the Vita is that it feels weird to start adrenaline and use the device like a slightly better Psp, when you could just buy a Psp.

So for all three of these, it seems like it would be a better idea to look for an android device with built in controls for to play emulated games on. Because that would probably handle Dreamcast and possibly Gamecube as well if I got one with good specs. The Switch Lite could also be a possibility, but I don’t want to mess around with CFW on a system with an active life-cycle.

Pixelbook comparisons

I was about ready to jump in on the Pixelbook, which still seems like the leader. But once I’ve confirmed how much the Pixelbook will cost, I should then do a double check of what can be done for the same amount of money. So in quick and dirty equation, we can say the Chromebook will be $600, pen $100 and then a Pixel 2 (phone) $200, so we’re looking at about $900 plus shipping and handling. We can take an opportunity to ask, if we’re shelling out $900 for hardware, what else can we get for the same amount of money, and how does it compare?

Galaxy Note:
We can do a quick comparison against a full-on note setup. Galaxy Note 8 ($300), Chromebook Plus V2 ($370), DexDock($40), 15 inch 4k monitor ($300). So we end up with around a thousand dollars. I guess the 4k monitor isn’t needed since i have a fullHD model at home. So we basically have around $700 for a computer and phone combination. And then $200 leftover to spend on Raspberry Pi stuff or commissions.

Normal Computer:
Options are Dell XPS 13 and Thinkpad X1 carbon. I’d be tempted to go with the X1 carbon if I can find a 1440p model for a decent price. Though I can’t find either of these computers are a price that costs less than both a chromebook and a phone. So there’s there’s that. The only normal computer that I think I would consider is the Surface Laptop 3, and that’s out of my price range.

So the main comparison that we’re down to is the combination of a Pixelbook with a Pixelphone, or a Samsung Galaxy with a Samsung Notebook (or a NexDock). In general there isn’t too much reason that I couldn’t buy a Pixelbook and a Samsung phone, but I really like the idea of having two different devices that use similar design language. The main reason that I want a Samsung Galaxy phone is that the idea of having Dex sounds really appealing. I really like the idea of being able to have a phone, pop it into a dock, and then be able to use the phone as a desktop.

The main issue is that I would like to try this approach or have this option available. I don’t have much time to sit down at a desk very often, so I should go with the device with a better laptop functionality and that’s the Pixelbook. Also right now the Samsung phones have Dex enabled, but if desktop mode were to become an option on the Pixelphones, then that would make the case for the Pixel-family really one sided. As that’s the main reason I have for leaning towards Samsung in general.

The other comparison to make in this situation is the Chromebook experience. In terms of flat out Chrome usage, I don’t see much reason to choose the Pixelbook over the Chromebook Plus V2. Since I would be using both for light emulation, browsers and terminal availability. It’s mostly the idea of putting Linux on the device is what gives the Pixelbook massive advantage over the Samsung options as the 64GB on the Chromebook Plus v2 would quickly become a limiting factor. As for the pen, I really like the idea of having a store the pen on the Chromebook Plus v2. But that’s in the case of ChromeOS. Otherwise in practical application I don’t mind leaving the at home, and being able to use the pen only when at home, and using the computer as a standard computer otherwise.

So I still have a few more questions to address. How much would the Pixelbook be compared to the Zenbook I have now? And which version of the Pixel phone makes the most sense?

Chromebook comparison

I don’t know what it is about Chromebooks that allows designers to make the decisions that they do. But for what ever reason functionality-wise Chromebook are infinitely more compelling devices that normal Windows laptops. If I had the option to buy Chromebooks with a normal copy of Windows and the option to install Linux on it (without having to flash the bios) like any normal computer, then hands down, I would use that.

I would like to have a Ryzen laptop, but since all of them except the Surface 3 are capped at 1080p, it really makes Chromebooks look that much more appealing. The three options I’m considering are the Pixelbook, Samsung Chromebook Pro, and Samsung Chromebook Plus V2. And for specs I think I can make one table comparing all three of these.

Model CPU MEM Storage Screen Size Resolution Price
Pixelbook i5 8GB 256GB 12.3 in 2400 x 1600 $600
Samsung Chromebook Pro M3 6Y30 4GB 32GB 12.3 in 2400 x 1600 $400
Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 Celeron 4GB 64GB 12.2 in 1900 x 1200 $370

Generally we’re not here to compare specs. The aspect that I’m interested for each device is functionality. So it seems like the best way to compare these computers is to focus on weaknesses and try to narrow down from there.

At the top we have the Pixelbook which is going to be the no compromise option. It has a great keyboard, great trackpad, and USB-C ports on each side for charging. It’s also the most expensive option. So the main question is going to be are the cheaper Samsung options going to have some functionality to bring to the table? My prediction is probably not. In terms of downsides the main issue is going to be a lack of sd card slot, but that’s something that can be done with a dongle and isn’t a huge deal.

For the Chromebook Pro, we have a few weaknesses. Generally in terms of keyboard flex, smaller outer keys, and then the 32GB of storage. This can probably be made up for a little bit with the fact that it has a micro-sd card slot with a cover. But I’m not really a fan of the idea of installing operating systems to the micro-sd card should I try installing another OS, plus the possibility of losing pen support. So it’s probably a good idea to eliminate this option.

The last device is the Plus V2, which is a surprisingly compelling little device. The resolution isn’t terribly high, but this seems like a cheap but capable device that I could probably consider leaving ChromeOS on it to act as a thin client, and do most everything over SSH. This device on it’s own isn’t The compelling part is more that because this device is cheap, I could pick up a Samsung Galaxy S8 for $280 and the DexDock for $40, and pick up a few devices for the price of the Pixelbook.

I think we can safely eliminate the Chromebook Pro. With the limitations on keyboard and storage, I think it would be passable but with a lot of compromises. And I don’t think I would get enough functionality out of the pen to balance out those short comings. For the Plus V2, it seems like a cute little device with a good keyboard and more functionality with the pen. In this case I think it would make a great ChromeOS device, but be lacking and potentially even lose the ability to use the pen with Linux installed on it. I tried to rationalize one of the Samsung options by thinking, “I could buy a Galaxy Phone and a Chromebook for the price of the Pixelbook”, but in general it really looks like the Pixelbook and Pixel 2 is a stronger option, even if it is a little pricier.

I think the next comparison to make between the pixelbook and another device would probably be the Samsung Galaxy S9, or Note 8 with a DexDock and NexDock for one option, with the Pixelbook as the other option. I think the Pixelbook would come out on top, but it would make n interesting comparison.

Jan 2020 Laptop Comparison

So we’ve narrowed down the options between going balls-in on a cell phone that can do everything or a normal-ass laptop. Let’s look at the options for laptops to see if there is anything compelling.

1. Google Pixelbook

Spec Points
CPU i5
RAM 8GB
Storage 256GB
Screen Size 12.3 in
Resolution 2400 x 1600
Arrow Keys T-Style
Charger USB-C

2. Samsung Chromebook Plus V2

Spec Points
CPU Intel Celeron
RAM 4GB
Storage 64GB
Screen Size 12.2 in
Resolution 1900*1200
Arrow Keys T-Style
Charger USB-C

3. Lenovo Flex 14

Spec Points
CPU Ryzen 5 3500U
RAM 12GB
Storage 256GB
Screen Size 14 in
Resolution 1920×1080
Arrow Keys Fat-Style ×
Charger Barrel ×

5. Lenovo Thinkpad e495

Spec Points
CPU Ryzen 5 3500U
RAM 8GB
Storage 256GB
Screen Size 14 in
Resolution 1920×1080
Arrow Keys T-Style
Charger USB-C

Summary:

So we can start by eliminating the lower scoring options. First the Lenovo Flex 14 is a spec improvement over what I have, but barrel jack power, same resolution and then fat keys means that it doesn’t offer any benefit in the key areas I’m looking to improve on. Next is the Samsung Chromebook. I can overlook the general low specs with the Celeron/4GB/64GB if the laptop can make up for it else where, which it almost does with the pen and USB-C input. The main place where this computer falls short is the resolution with 1900×1200 which does not seem like enough for my use. But this computer is compelling so I might take another look at it.

The main comparison comes down to the Thinkpad e495 versus the Pixelbook. And the main difference is screen resolution versus specs. As while they appear similar on the surface I think the Thinkpad has the advantage with ddr4 and nvme drive. But the main upgrade I’m looking for in resolution. So the specs almost make up for it, but I think I would go with the Pixelbook over the Thinkpad, but I would go with the Thinkpad if it had the option to upgrade to 1440p post-market. But there are three really compelling options here. So I might have to look at the Chromebook options a little bit more to see which ones support coreboot.


https://mrchromebox.tech/#devices

New Year Hardware Stupid Ideas

A new year and more time for stupid hardware ideas. Right now I’m split between three generally stupid ideas. So I’ll list them below.

1. Full On Cellphone

The first stupid idea is going full on cellphone. This means grabbing a Samgsung Galaxy S8/S9/S10 with Dex, and then grabbing the DexDock, NexDock and then a 15.4″ 4k usb-powered monitor. In terms of upside, there are a lot in terms of being able to do everything on one versatile device. I like the idea of being able to have a phone I can use to shoot video, and have a LTE connection that let’s me use the internet all of time, and then be able to carry a NexDock to plug it into where I need more screen real-estate at a Park or a Cafe or something. And then at home I can drop it in the DexDock, charge it and use it as a complete desktop. I can also bluetooth pair everything to it and have gamepads, keyboards, and headsets paired to it. So there are a lot of upsides, the only downside here is the lack of unproven track record and cost ends up costing about what a normal laptop would cost.

2. Wacom Desktop

This wasn’t originally on the table (pun intended?), until I saw a used Cintiq tablet at a used good store. Having a huge 24+ inch wacom tablet and being able to draw directly on the screen is something that I’ve wanted since college, as even through I’m mostly a programmer it would be great to be able to draw diagrams and notes directly on the computer screen. The main downside here is that I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and focus at a desk recently. I would get a lot more use out of laptop with pen input or something. So I’ll hold off on the Wacom screen and hope they continue to improve in resolution, and lower in price over the next few years. There’s definitely been a lot of competition that has forced wacom to step up their game in terms of innovation and rethink their prices a little bit.

3. Normal Laptop

I’ve been waiting to upgrade my laptop for several years now and the main problem is there aren’t any candidates that are reasonably priced. Generally with the two options being the Dell XPS 13 and the Thinkpad X1 Carbon. With this previous CES 2020, it looks like AMD has finally managed to get Ryzen into a lot of laptops. And the most compelling of these seems to be the Thinkpad e495 which is a 14″ Full HD Ryzen thinkpad with a USB-C charger for about $600. This laptop checks off almost every feature I could ask for, except for 1440p, which is kind of a deal breaker, as resolution is the one aspect I want to upgrade more than specs. And usb-C charging is nice, but it’s an added benefit and not something that I would really change hands for.

In summary of the three options the Wacom option is the easiest to dismiss. In terms of price and practicality it’s not there yet. So I can put off buying one anytime soon and not feel too bad about it. The main comparison comes down to a Samsung Galaxy S9 versus a normal laptop like the Thinkpad e495. And in general between these two options without 1440p on the laptop, the Samsung Galaxy comes off as the more appealing option of two. Though right now I’m thinking that I could probably get more benefit out of using the money for commissions is the hardware available isn’t going to necessarily improve my efficiency.

More hardware Notes

It ended up being not too hard to talk myself out of the Dsi and Wii ideas for now. In terms of the Dsi, the games I’m most interested in are the 3d titles for for the NDS, and 3d titles on the native hardware and the native resolution look terrible to put it politely. I’m genuinely curious of what the play experience of Mario DS, the Legend of Zelda games and Phantasy Star Star Zero would look like with better resolution and better controls. This generally implies emulation, but the problem with the DS is the top and bottom screens side-by-side really hinders the play experience. In this case I think I’m fortunate enough to have a 3ds with an IPS screen, so I might look into running ds games on that, or I might look into mods to see what can be done to make the emulation experience in terms of managing the dual screens.

For the Wii, I’m not interested in the Wii as much as the “legacy” titles from the NES, SNES, GB(C), GBA and Gamecube (not terribly interested in the N64). The first four can be emulated with a genuinely enjoyable experience on the PSP, Ps-Vita and Android. So it’s not as compelling as I originally thought. And another issue with the Wii and console games in general is that I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and play on a console at home, which is why my attention seems to be focused on what can be done with handheld recently. The main draw for the Wii would be the Gamecube titles, and that’s something that could just as well be done on a laptop since I have a USB and Bluetooth style gamecube controller and that would arguably be a better experience and easier to manage not requiring a dedicated device.

In terms of handhelds I think this would be the obvious choice to go with. It’s an Android cellphone with buttons similar to the layout of the PSP and I think I could reasonably be able to expect to play NES, SNES, GB(C), GBA, PSX and PSP. If it could play Gamecube and Dreamcast games, that would make me extremely happy, but this is just what’s available at the end of 2019, and people are finally seeing that there is a lot of demand in this area, so I think we’ll see more competition in 2020. I would be really tempted to buy a Switch Lite to use as a dedicated emulation machine, but I generally try to avoid handhelds and consoles until their life cycle is over and where it can be embraced by a community with open firmware. So I’ll see when I’ll have the option to order the Chinese handheld.

Wii And DSi

My intention for writing this blog was to try and arrange my thoughts and focus on things that I’m doing at the time, but so far it’s turned out to be nothing but me either trying to talk myself into stupid side projects, or try and rationalize stupid shit. For today’s topic of stupid shit, we’re going to be looking at the Wii and DSi. The idea is that the Wii and DSi are both old and wide open platforms of the console and handheld from the same generation. So it seems like having one of each and then putting custom firmware on them seems like it would be a lot of fun.

Wii

Wii’s are available for about $20-30 for a complete working Wii. Plus SD cards have really come down in price. And it seems like a pretty compelling idea to get a Wii which would include the Wii, Gamecube, N64, Snes and Nes libraries. It seems like it also might have some decent or fun homebrew to play around with.

DSi

I already have a DSi that I installed homebrew on. So another DSi would actually be to use as it was intended. Specifically for buying and collecting DS cards which could be loaded one at a time and played as intended. In terms of software I think I’d stick with games like Pokemon, Nintendogs, and Animal Crossing.

Looking for a new laptop

Now that I’ve managed to grab most of the items in my list of consoles to mess around with and a fare share of Raspberry Pi accessories and gamepads, the next list of things to play around with is a set of laptops. So my goal is to try and pick up two of the same kind of laptops. One to install Windows on and the other to run Debian Gnome on. The conditions for the computers is they need to be either 12inches or 14inches with a 1080p or higher IPS display, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage.

For budget I’m looking at about $250 per laptop with a combined total of $500. For memory 8GB is the ideal goal, but 4GB is passable, and ideally I’d be looking at 4GB x2 for dual channel memory since at this price point I’m probably looking at integrated graphics. A few things like a dedicated microphone jack, or usb-c for power are definite bonuses. And in looking for computers, if there is a computer that is more than $250 and around or less than $500 and contains a hot-swappable hard drive then that could be a consideration. And the other thing is that the model needs to be the same for both computers. So for new computers this isn’t an issue, but if I go for something used, then I’ll have to look for models that I can reliably find two of, which will probably be outlet business computers.

So I guess I’ll list the candidate devices, and then try to figure out which one makes the most sense.

Chuwi Herobook

Link: https://www.amazon.com/CHUWI-HeroBook-X5-E8000-Notebook-Lightweight/dp/B07P5RT1P5?ref_=ast_sto_dp

This one is kind of surprising. I wasn’t expecting a new device to fit what I’m looking for so closely. It’s a 14.1 inch, 1080p IPS display with an atom processor and 4GB of memory. The description on the storage is pretty poorly worded. It looks like it as 64GB of eMMC memory which is included. And then it has an optional m.2 (sata/nvme?) ssd slot (up to 1TB) for expanded storage. And they they also claim the micro-sd card slot is storage, but I’ll leave that rant alone.

So the main thing about this device is the display, processor and memory are all fine. It really comes down to the storage. First of all I need to figure out exactly what kind of storage it’s expecting. And then second I need to figure out if the device can boot directly from the SSD. The 64GB eMMC seems kind of wonky, I don’t know if there’s anything I would really need or use it for. On Linux I could potentially map is to something. On windows I don’t know if it’s possible to group drives, or even if that’s a good idea. So as far as I can tell it seems like the best option would be to install a separate SSD and then pretend the eMMC doesn’t exist. Unless I could install Linux to one drive and Windows to the other and then figure out how to switch between them as a bios option. And then figure out how to separate the partitions so that they couldn’t see the other, only one shared mapped partition.

Latitude E7250