40 years of the laptop: how mobile PCs changed the world

Main image: The IBM ThinkPad 700 series first appeared in 1992

If you own a PC there’s a very good chance it’s a lightweight and portable laptop, rather than a big and bulky desktop. Those rectangular boxes that are tethered to your desk have been declining in popularity, with laptops now far outstripping them when it comes to sales.

Thanks to an almost constant stream of innovations, the humble laptop has become slimmer and lighter than ever before, while the hardware inside them has become ever-more powerful, while batteries are lasting longer.

Creating a powerful and portable computer is no mean feat, and here we look back at some of the pivotal moments in the history of laptop development, and examine how early machines influenced the laptops of today.

1981: Osborne 1, the world’s first truly mobile computer

Photo of Osborne 1

Image credit: CC BY 3.0

(Image: © CC BY 3.0)

Many people consider the Osborne 1 to be the granddaddy of laptops. Released by Osborne Computer in 1981, the Osborne 1 had a five-inch screen, two floppy drives, a modem, battery pack and a keyboard that was built into the lid.

Although it was big and bulky (it weighed 11kg, which is just over the combined weight of five MacBook Pros), this early computer still has some recognizable laptop features. Sadly, it wasn’t a hit, but it showed the potential of a portable personal computer – for the first time, people were able to carry their computer with them and work on them when traveling.

At the time of its release it cost $1,795, which would be around $5,000 (£4,000, AU$7,000) in today’s money.

1983: Grid Compass 1101, the first clamshell laptop

Photo of Grid Compass 1101

(Image: © Russian Vintage Laptop Museum)

The first portable laptop that really looked like a laptop was the Grid Compass 1101, which was released in 1983. It featured the clamshell design, with the screen able to be folded up against the keyboard when closed. This remarkable innovation meant that the Grid Compass 1101 could be more easily carried around, while the screen and keyboard were kept protected.

It was such a successful and influential design that it’s endured to this day, and while the Grid Compass 1101 itself wasn’t a huge success due to its high price of around $10,000 (around $25,000 / £20,000 / AU$35,000 in today’s money), the patents on many of its innovations earned GRID Systems Corp a lot of money.

1989: Compaq LTE and Compaq LTE 286, the first notebook PCs

Photo of Compaq LTE

(Image: © Centre for Computing History )

Up until this point, early laptops were sometimes referred to as ‘luggables’, due to the fact that while they were more portable than a regular PC, they were still large and bulky, and not easily carried.

However, in 1989 the Compaq LTE and LTE 286 were released, and they’re generally regarded as the first notebook PCs, as they were around the size of a paper notebook. These smaller laptops were easier to carry around, making them more popular with people who travelled a lot.

They were also two of the first laptops to include a built-in hard drive and floppy disk drive, making them even more versatile. The hard drive in the Compaq LTE offered 20MB of storage space, which was doubled for the Compaq LTE 286.

1989: Macintosh Portable, the first Apple laptop

Photo of Macintosh Portable

Image credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 FR

(Image: © CC BY-SA 2.0 FR)

1989 also saw Apple release its first laptop device, and while it wasn’t as small or as easy to carry as the Compaq LTE (it was still considered a ‘luggable’ device), it offered very good battery life and decent screen – something modern MacBooks are still renowned for.

Due to its size and weight it wasn’t a popular device, but it did spur on competitors to release Mac-compatible laptops that were more portable – these days it’s strange to think of any other company other than Apple building Mac hardware.

1991: Apple PowerBook 100 series: a revolutionary early laptop

Photo of Apple PowerBook 100

Image credit: CC BY-SA 3.0

(Image: © CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1991, Apple released a series of PowerBook laptops – the PowerBook 100, PowerBook 140 and PowerBook 170 – which were far more successful than the company’s previous attempts at creating a portable PC, and they ushered in a number of revolutionary features that have become staples of modern laptop design.

For example, the keyboard was positioned towards the back of the bottom half of the laptop, providing room at the front for palm rests and a trackball. Up until that point most laptops had the keyboard positioned at the front, with the space at the back for function key reference cards and instructions.

The included trackpad was also noteworthy, as it provided a convenient way of controlling a pointing device. With operating systems moving away from text-only command line interfaces to graphical user interfaces, these pointing devices would become pivotal.

The Apple PowerBook series was immensely popular, and over the years the PowerBook line brought in more innovative features that we now take for granted in laptops. In 1994, the PowerBook 500 series was the first laptop to include a true touchpad, and the first to include a built-in Ethernet network adapter.

1992: IBM ThinkPad 700 – a powerful and iconic laptop

Photo of IBM ThinkPad 700

In 1992 IBM released its first ThinkPad laptops, the 700, 700c and 700t, and these, along with the Apple PowerBook 100 series, can be considered some of the first modern laptops, helping to shape the laptop landscape for the next 25 years. 

The ThinkPad came with a red TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard, which was used to control the pointer, and the iconic feature is still found in modern ThinkPads.

The ThinkPad 700 also really showcased what a laptop device could be capable of. It had a full-color 10.4-inch display, which was larger than any laptop screen that had come before, a 120MB hard drive and a powerful IBM 486 SLC processor.

The design of the ThinkPad was both stylish and functional, and it won a host of design awards. IBM was keen to highlight how well built the ThinkPad was in a series of promotional events, with, for example, the laptops being used by archaeologists in Egypt. The ThinkPad 750c was taken into space by NASA, proving just how capable these modern laptops were.

With innovative features and design choices used to overcome the technological issues of the time, these early laptops paved the way for the modern machines we now use daily, and it’s these early pioneers we have to thank for making laptops the brilliantly versatile devices we have in our homes, schools and workplaces.

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Code-cracking WW2 Bombe operation recreated at Bletchley

Computer historians have staged a re-enactment of World War Two code-cracking at Bletchley Park.

A replica code-breaking computer called a Bombe was used to decipher a message scrambled by an Enigma machine.

Held at the National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), the event honoured Polish help with wartime code-cracking.

Ruth Bourne, a former wartime code-cracker who worked at Bletchley and used the original Bombes, oversaw the modern effort.

Broken message

Enigma machines were used extensively by the German army and navy during World War Two. This prompted a massive effort by the Allies to crack the complex method they employed to scramble messages.

That effort was co-ordinated via Bletchley Park and resulted in the creation of the Bombe, said Paul Kellar who helps to keep a replica machine running at the museum. Renowned mathematician Alan Turing was instrumental in the creation of the original Bombe.

“During the war, they had about 200 Bombes,” said Mr Kellar. “It was a real code-breaking factory.”

For its re-enactment, TNMOC recruited a team of 12 and used a replica Bombe that, until recently, had been on display at the Bletchley Park museum next door.

The electro-mechanical Bombe was designed to discover which settings the German Enigma operators used to scramble their messages.

As with World War Two messages, the TNMOC team began with a hint or educated guess about the content of the message, known as a “crib”, which was used to set up the Bombe.

The machine then cranked through the millions of possible combinations until it came to a “good stop”, said Mr Kellar. This indicated that the Bombe had found key portions of the settings used to turn readable German into gobbledygook.

After that, said Mr Kellar, it was just a matter of time before the 12-strong team cracked the message.

Ms Bourne, who worked at Bletchley, said authentic methods had been used by the modern code-breakers but the effort lacked the over-riding stress and tension that accompanied the wartime work.

“During the war, there was a feeling of great pressure because the Enigma [encryption] keys changed at midnight so everyone was pushing to get enough information before it went out of date,” she told the BBC.

“The only high spot was when your machine happened to find the ‘good stop’ and you felt pleased about that,” she said.

Work on cracking the Engima machine was greatly aided by Polish cryptographers, said Mr Kellar. Friday’s event commemorated 80 years since that information was shared with the Allies. In addition, he said, the early stages of the code-cracking re-enactment were broadcast live to a Polish supercomputer conference in Poznan.

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Dell 24 Gaming Monitor

Dell’s S2419HGF gaming monitor offers up a 24-inch, 1080p display with a 120Hz refresh rate out of the box and easy overclocking to 144Hz. It does all that at a middling bargain price of $319 or £364 (about AU$430) for a monitor with those specs.

But, you can slap the best CPU and the best graphics card into your computer, and your gameplay experience is still only going to look as good as your monitor allows. Hardcore gamers may sacrifice some visuals for higher frame rates, and budget shoppers sacrifice quality for a good price. But, the balance feels off with the S2419HGF gaming monitor.

Pricing and availability

Though Dell’s monitor hits a tolerably budget $319 or £364 (about AU$430) price point for a 1080p 120/144Hz monitor, it’s readily shown up by the offerings of somewhat more expensive models. For example the $350 (£429, AU$649) Acer XG270HU monitor offers a higher 1440p resolution, native 144Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time, and the same AMD FreeSync feature.

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Design

The best of the Dell 24 Gaming Monitor shows in the design department. It’s quick and easy to put together, and the stand offers so much flexibility for positioning, we have no trouble finding the perfect angle for the screen. If anything helps this monitor beat the competition, it’s the design.

The stand allows us to easily raise and lower the height of the screen, tilt it up and down, swivel it, and pivot it. If we want to orient the screen vertically, it only takes seconds. The base of the stand doesn’t hog a ton of desk space, yet still feels like it’s keeping the monitor firmly planted. Plus, a circular opening in the stand is well placed for feeding cables from the various ports through to the monitor for a much tidier desk.

On the back of the monitor, there’s a pleasing amount and variety of ports. Two HDMI 1.4 ports, one DisplayPort 1.2 port, USB 3.0 pass-through for two devices, a 3.5mm headphone out jack, and a 3.5mm audio line-out jack all make it a versatile monitor. And, that USB pass-through is a lovely way to connect a keyboard and mouse, especially if we’re using the monitor with a laptop that won’t always be plugged into its peripherals. Plus, all the ports face down, so the cables won’t get mashed up against the wall behind the monitor.

A plastic bezel is about a half inch thick runs around the perimeter of the screen, leaving a small gap between the monitor edge and the active portion of the screen. We don’t find it obnoxious, but it won’t look good in a multi-monitor setup. Plus, the 27-inch model trims the top and size bezels by more than 50% while offering more screen, plus a higher resolution and 155Hz refresh rate.  

Bezels-aside, the stand is stellar and the recon blue metallic finish looks slick. So, things are pretty positive for the Dell 24 Gaming Monitor until we get the screen on and get into gaming, where it impresses much less.

Dell 24 Gaming Monitor review

Performance

With the pleasing build of the Dell 24 Gaming Monitor, we almost hoped that Dell had found a way to make Full HD at 24 inches look good on a TN panel, but that was asking too much.

There is good to this monitor. For one thing, the 120Hz offers plenty smooth game visuals, and FreeSync can help avoid stuttering frames and tearing if you connect it to an either mobile or desktop AMD graphics card or Xbox One X. Plus, it only takes a few clicks of the easy-to-navigate menus to overclock to 144Hz. 

Even better, our computer’s display adapter automatically notices the switch from 120Hz to 144Hz, so we don’t have to fiddle with Windows settings when we switch between the two.

In eSports titles where frame rates trump almost everything and most of the on-screen elements aren’t too tiny, the 1080p resolution is passable. Overwatch looks good, enemies are easy enough to spot, and visible pixelation around the edges of characters is easy to ignore at 120+ FPS.

Dell 24 Gaming Monitor review

But, elsewhere it’s harder to give the screen a thumbs up. In games with sprawling levels where enemies can be so far away that they’re just a few pixels, the low resolution and pixel density are more apparent. Outside of gaming, black text on white backgrounds is hard on the eyes even with Windows’ ClearType calibrated for the monitor. The resolution doesn’t hurt when watching shows or movies, but that brings us to the next issue.

TN panels aren’t known for their great viewing angles, and this is no exception. Colors on the screen shift with only a little side-to-side movement, and viewing the screen from even slightly above ruins the picture. 

The viewing angle from below doesn’t suffer as much, but the Dell 24 Gaming Monitor is only going to look good positioned directly in front and center of you. The poor viewing angles mar the vertical orientation. While this isn’t a big problem in single-player games, it is an issue for shared viewing experience.

Dell 24 Gaming Monitor review

Moving into Dell’s gaming modes, things get dicier. This monitor boasts 1ms (GTG) response times, but comes set to a slower 4ms response time by default. Jumping into the menus and enabling the ‘Super Fast’ response time setting brings it to 1ms, but introduces bright white ghosting to any fast moving elements on the screen. We find games basically unplayable with this setting, and have to deal with the slower response time.

We also don’t think the various game modes, which tweak the lighting and color, improve the experience. The FPS mode makes the screen uncomfortably bright, and butchers the contrast. We prefer the standard mode, but that brings us to our big question: if the gaming features don’t help, what good do they do for this gaming monitor?

Dell 24 Gaming Monitor review

Final verdict

The nice construction and stand make it a real shame that the display itself doesn’t meet the same standards. It leaves us wishing we could take our preferred monitor and attach it to this stand. 

While the Dell 24 Gaming Monitor is good for eSports titles, it fails to be great. There are other monitors like the Acer XG270HU that can hit 144Hz without overclocking, and that can deliver 1ms response times without trippy ghosting. 

If you have the budget, there are plenty of monitors that are a step up from the Dell 24 Gaming monitor with consistently faster response times, higher resolutions, or faster refresh rates. Or, even for less, the $299 (£239, AU$449) Asus’s MG248Q offers a comparable experience to Dell’s monitor. 

So, the Dell 24 Gaming Monitor is left in an awkward position where it has cheaper monitors beating it in the eSports scene, while also not being able to live up to slightly more expensive monitors for high-FPS gaming at higher resolutions. 

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Withings Steel HR Sport review

Withings has gone through a big change in recent years; it was bought by Nokia for around $191 million back in 2016, before being sold back to the original co-founder earlier this year after Nokia’s failed Digital Health rebranding. What better way to celebrate new (or is that old) ownership than to release one of the best smartwatches in the Withings collection?

The Withings Steel HR Sport is the most advanced smartwatch on offer from the company, offering exercise tracking for over 30 activities, sleep tracking and an amazing companion app. Read our Withings Steel HR Sport review to find out what we think about the sporty smartwatch, and check out our selection of the best fitness trackers of 2018 to see how it compares.   

Withings Steel HR Sport: Pricing and availability

The Withings Steel HR Sport is now available to buy around the world following a late-September 2018 release. It’s not the cheapest smartwatch/fitness tracker on the market at £189.95, putting it up against the likes of the Fitbit Versa, but we think that the style and breadth of features on offer from the Steel HR Sport make it worth the price.

At the time of writing, you can only buy the Withings Steel HR Sport from the Withings website. It’ll set you back £189.95/$199.95, although you’ll have to add shipping costs if you want express delivery. You can purchase additional straps and other accessories from the site too.

Withings Steel HR Sport: Design and build

Like with other watches in the Withings collection, the Steel HR Sport is a beautiful blend of analogue and digital, offering an analogue watchface with a range of built-in smart tech.

The first thing you’ll likely notice is the digital subdial display; it’s an OLED panel that provides real-time information including smartphone notifications, heart rate, calories, step count, access to fitness tracking and more with the push of the side button. Beneath the digital subdial is a secondary analogue subdial that displays your progress towards your daily step goal, customisable via the Health Mate app.

The watch is available in both black and white, and while the white face is certainly eye-catching, it doesn’t do a great job of hiding the digital subdial when it’s not in use. The black watchface is much more conspicuous, as the black display blends with the dark watchface and is barely noticeable when not in use. No matter your choice of black or white, the watchface features red accents that give a largely black-and-white watch a much-needed pop of colour.

The watchface is housed in a durable 40mm stainless steel case with an engraved bezel, bringing a premium touch to the Sport. It comes with a soft-to-the-touch silicone watchstrap designed to be breathable and durable enough to endure the most strenuous of workouts. If that’s not your style, the Withings website allows you to customise your Steel HR Sport with a range of silicone and leather straps.

But even with a sporty silicone strap, the Steel HR Sport doesn’t look like a sporty watch. The muted colour scheme, analogue display and premium case make it just at home on your wrist at the office as it is at the gym.

It’s a slim, attractive little number too; measuring in at 13mm thick and weighing only 49g, the Steel HR Sport is barely noticeable on the wrist.

Withings Steel HR Sport: Features & App

So, what’s on offer with the Withings Steel HR Sport? As the name suggests, the watch features heart rate monitoring capabilities using a sensor on the rear. Unlike some smartwatches, your heart rate is constantly monitored when wearing the watch, and can be accessed at any time by pressing the side button on the watch.

While the watch provides live readings, you can access daily, weekly and monthly data via the Health Mate app for iOS and Android. As well as being able to see your heart rate range in any given 30-minute period, the app provides average bpm measurements for waking hours and while asleep too.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Steel HR Sport without the ability to track exercise, and that’s an area where the watch excels. You can track a wide range of activities – over 30 in total – that range from the standard exercises you expect from a Sporty smartwatch (running, cycling, jogging) to the niche (yoga, golf, ping pong, ice skating and more). It’s water resistant up to an impressive 50m, so you can track swimming and other water-based activities without fear of water damage.

You can set a list of five ‘favourite’ activities via the app for easy activation on the watch. It really is simple to start exercise tracking on the watch; you hold the side button for a second, browse the selection of exercises and hold the button once more to activate. If you’ve got your smartphone connected via Bluetooth, it’ll use the smartphone’s GPS to get more advanced readings including elevation and pace.

Though the measurements taken vary depending on the activity you’re doing, one of the more useful readings provided is VO2 Max. When you run, the smartwatch will assess your general fitness level and provide you with a maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 Max) estimation in the form of a level. In general terms, the higher the level, the fitter you are, and this provides a great way to track overall fitness over time.

But what if you forget to turn on the exercise tracking feature? Thankfully the Steel HR Sport features automatic exercise recognition, though it’s not perfect. In our experience, it detects strenuous activities like running automatically, but it’s not the best at automatically detecting the likes of fast-paced walking or dancing. It’s probably best to activate it manually if you can!

The Withings Steel HR Sport is a great smartwatch, but that means nothing without a great app to back it up. Thankfully, that is the case; the Health Mate app for iOS and Android is one of the best companion apps we’ve come across. It’s well built, and provides more than just access to your data. Unlike similar apps, Health Mate provides information about what all the data means, and how you can act on the data to improve your fitness and wellbeing.

It’s little features that enhance the experience, like explaining that a 60bpm average heart rate reading during sleep indicates good cardiovascular health, or what the different periods of sleep (light and deep) mean and how it can influence how you feel daily. It really does provide a great insight into your health, both in terms of exercise and sleep.

As mentioned, the Steel HR Sport tracks your sleep and provides data including sleep stage, interruptions, total time asleep and more, assigning you a score and colour (green for good, red for bad) allowing you to compare tracked sleep at a glance.

As well as little titbits of information alongside your data, you can sign up to a variety of wellness programs from within the app. These provide specific targets, whether it’s sleeping better or learning how to lose weight more effectively, and use data from the Steel HR Sport to coach you over the course of several weeks. For example, we’re currently enrolled in a Sleep Smarter program, with the aim of setting a consistent sleeping pattern across the week and weekend. It looks at your sleep data across the week and provides you with a ‘social jetlag’ score and information on how to improve. It’s personal, effective and provides a great user experience.

With all that going on, the battery life can’t be amazing, can it? Oh, it can. With average use, the Withings Steel HR Sport can last up to 25 days on a single charge. It drops down to five days with constant fitness tracking, but we can’t imagine many people will be tracking exercises 24 hours a day. Even once the battery runs low, the power reserve mode will provide an extra 20 days of power with time and activity tracking.

When the time comes to eventually charge the smartwatch, you simply drop it onto the magnetic wireless charger and wait. It doesn’t take too long to charge either; it’ll take around 2 hours to charge from 0-100 percent, though an hour should provide around 80 percent charge (more than enough for a few weeks of use!).

We’re really impressed with the Withings Steel HR Sport, both in terms of design and the range of features available. If you’ve been holding out for a gorgeous analogue smartwatch with smart features, it’s time to make a purchase.

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Lenovo Legion Y920 review: A hefty gaming laptop with buttery graphics and a mechanical keyboard

The Lenovo Legion Y920, with its full-on GTX 1070-calibre graphics, a bright 17-inch screen, and a mechanical keyboard, makes for a solid—and quite hefty—gaming laptop. Besides its premium mechanical keyboard, the Y920 boasts some enticing amenities that its competitors lack, such as a one-touch Turbo mode and Dolby Atmos sound.

It’s a good machine, but shop wisely. Gamers focused purely on the visuals may balk at the Y920’s hefty price tag, particularly given that a similarly configured version of the Alienware 17 R5Remove non-product link (not the maxed-out version we reviewed) currently costs many hundreds of dollars less. You’ll also see 17-inch gaming laptops with newer CPUs than its 7th-generation overclockable part. 

Note: This review is part of our roundup of the best laptops. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.

Price and specifications

The Lenovo Legion Y920 (more specifically, the Y920-17IKB) packs a quad-core, seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7820HK processor and a middle-of-the-road Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics core, both of which you can overclock a skosh by nudging a “Turbo” switch. You also get a 17.3-inch full-HD and G-Sync-capable display, 16GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM, a 512GB solid-state drive, and a 1TB 5,200rpm hard drive.

A note on pricing and availability: Lenovo is no longer selling this model directly, but the company confirmed it was still available on Amazon and other third-party online retail channels. Its price tag is something of a moving target. One day, it was about $1,950 on Amazon, then the price jumped to about $2,110 a few days later. Newegg, meanwhile, has been selling the laptop for anywhere between $2,100 and $2,660.

That said, if you’re pining for a gaming laptop with a mechanical keyboard (not a guaranteed feature) and easy-as-pie overclocking, the Legion Y920 might be worth the extra cash.

Design

lenovo legion y920 lid Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Lenovo Legion Y920 features a brushed-aluminum lid with the ‘Y’ logo.

The Lenovo Legion Y920 is about as hulking as you’d expect for a desktop refill, tipping the scales at more than 9.5 pounds and measuring a roomy 16.17 x 12.4 x 1.42 inches. Once you add the massive power brick, you’re looking at close to 12 pounds of hardware.

The Y920’s sturdy shell boasts a handsome brushed-aluminum lid emblazoned with Lenovo’s familiar “Y”-shaped logo, with a pair of stylish cooling vents in back.

Is cloud computing for gaming too good to be true?

One of the most exciting innovations of recent years has been cloud computing. Many of us use cloud-based services every day without really thinking about it. For example, if you take photos on your Android smartphone or Apple iPhone, your photos can be backed up automatically to the cloud, which means you can view them from any internet-connected smartphone or computer.

With cloud computing, the idea is to make use of a remote, powerful, computer that’s connected to the internet, and stream its processing power to a cheaper, low-powered computer in your home. The potential for this technology is huge. It allows gamers to experience playing on powerful hardware they wouldn’t be able to afford, or allow research institutes to make use of the most powerful supercomputers in the world without physically having them in the same building.

Cloud computing is definitely an innovation worth getting excited about – but in its current state, is the technology too good to be true? Let’s take a look.

Cloud computing flow chart

A graphic showing how cloud computing can be used to link multiple devices

What is cloud computing?

First of all, what is cloud computing? It’s a rather broad term that covers a lot of services and technology. The basic gist of it is that cloud computing is a method of accessing services provided by remote computers over the internet – which is referred to as ’the cloud’.

These services can include servers, storage, software and raw processing power, and they’re usually provided through a subscription, so you can pay small amounts each month, rather than having to pay a lot of money all at once for the hardware or services.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s likely that you use cloud computing every day, even without knowing. Popular cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive, for example, allow you to easily store your files in the cloud, and access them from other devices.

Sending emails, or creating online documents in Google Docs, could also be considered cloud computing, as you’re using servers and hardware from remote internet-connected PCs.

Even streaming services like Netflix and Spotify could be considered cloud computing, as you’re accessing content (videos and music) that’s stored remotely on other machines.

Cloud computing and gaming

There are also a number of exciting cloud computing services for video games. For example, Microsoft has long been touting using cloud computing as a way to offload certain intensive tasks for its Xbox One console, potentially offering much more impressive graphics, physics and gameplay than the console itself is capable of.

Unfortunately, this is where we first encountered the notion that cloud computing might be too good to be true. When Microsoft talked about Xbox One’s use of cloud computing, the company was intentionally vague, using jargon and buzzwords but providing little in the way of facts.

Microsoft sees cloud computing as a way of supercharging the power of its gaming consoles, such as the Xbox One

Microsoft sees cloud computing as a way of supercharging the power of its gaming consoles, such as the Xbox One

This came at a time when the Xbox One was being roundly criticized for being underpowered compared to its competitor, the PlayStation 4. Microsoft was keen to stress that cloud computing could overcome the hardware limitations of its console, as it could harness the power of cloud computers to help out with the graphics load.

That all sounded great, and Microsoft certainly has the experience to back up its claims, thanks to its established cloud services and products, such as OneDrive and its Azure cloud platform, but we’ve yet to see the Xbox One really take advantage of cloud computing. Crackdown 3, a game that was once touted as being a showcase for the Xbox One and the ’Power of the Cloud’, has yet to be released after numerous delays, and talk of the cloud when it comes to the game has been conspicuous by its absence recently.

Crackdown 3 was touted by Microsoft as being a showcase for cloud-powered gaming, but it has yet to be released

Crackdown 3 was touted by Microsoft as being a showcase for cloud-powered gaming, but it has yet to be released

Meanwhile, Microsoft seemed to waver in its belief that the cloud could save the Xbox One when it comes to power, and instead built a more powerful traditional console in the Xbox One X.

The promise of Microsoft’s gaming nirvana where hardware didn’t matter sadly proved to be too good to be true. However, there are rumors that the next Xbox (apparently codenamed Scarlett Cloud) will finally fulfill Microsoft’s lofty claims of cloud computing.

Feeling the GeForce

A more realistic use of cloud computing for gaming, and one that actually exists, is Nvidia’s GeForce Now service, which is currently available as a free beta. This service uses Nvidia’s huge collection of powerful cloud-connected servers and hardware to stream games to your PC, Mac or Nvidia Shield console.

Like most cloud computing services, it uses the power of remote computers to stream games to your device, while your inputs for controlling the game (through a keyboard and mouse or gamepad) are sent back to the remote computer. On paper, if your internet connection is good enough, there should be minimal lag between you sending a command and it appearing on-screen.

We experienced lag-free gaming using Nvidia’s GeForce Now, but that was in optimal conditions, with super-fast internet

We experienced lag-free gaming using Nvidia’s GeForce Now, but that was in optimal conditions, with super-fast internet

We had a chance to use GeForce Now at an event Nvidia was holding, and we were very impressed. We played PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a game in which quick reflexes are essential, and any hint of lag could mean game over, on older MacBooks which shouldn’t usually be able to run the game. Most of the time it felt like we were playing the game natively on powerful gaming PCs in front of us, rather than using cloud computing to stream the game from remote PCs many miles away.

However, it should be noted that we were using GeForce Now in circumstances that benefited the service, namely a central London hotel with super-fast internet access. If you live out in the countryside and your internet connection is poor, then the results may not be so good.

Regardless, in this early beta stage we saw the promise of cloud computing that Microsoft has so far failed to deliver on Xbox One.

There are also a number of similar services, such as Shadow, which is growing in popularity and gives subscribers access to a remote PC that has a powerful CPU, 12GB of RAM and a GTX 1080 graphics card – essentially a high-end gaming rig.

Sony also has its PlayStation Now service, that allows people to stream PS4, PS3 and PS2 games to their PS4 or PC. It’s not as ambitious as what some other companies are delivering (or promising), but it’s a great example of how cloud computing can benefit gamers, and free them from the limits of their hardware.

TechRadar’s Next Up series is brought to you in association with Honor

TechRadar’s Next Up series is brought to you in association with Honor

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Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speaker review: A definite contender for best-in-class status

Some speakers are criticized for their overt personality, for exaggerated (or undernourished) tonal characteristics that can misrepresent the music. But it’s hard to imagine anyone taking Q Acoustics to task for what they’ve wrought with the personable 3020i bookshelf speakers. These speakers’ special distinction is a focus on soundstage optimization and unwavering clarity that serves almost every musical master exceedingly well, from classical to folk, rock to hip hop to jazz.

These speakers will send you running for your favorite recordings, so you can hear what nuances will be revealed. They imbue studio performances with such presence, depth, and bounce as to create a sort of sonic hologram that pinpoints musicians’ spatial placement in the mix, not just in the horizontal plane but also forward and aft, high and low. And it all comes from an attractive package that positively oozes quality at an almost unbelievably low price: Just $299. For the pair.

The 12-year-old Q Acoustics design team is largely comprised of alumni from a host of august home audio brands, including KEF, Meridian, Mission, and Tannoy. The company’s pinch-me pricing is achieved by manufacturing its speakers in China and selling them direct, at QAcoustics.com and via online storefronts at Amazon, Jet, Reverb, eBay, and Walmart.

q 3000 series Q Acoustics

The 3020i is the second up model in a full range of 3000i-series speakers. You can mix and match them for multiple rooms and multi-channel home theater installations.

The 3020i are in the middle of a range of speakers consisting of the smaller 3010i speakers at one end and the 3050i floor-standers at the other. If you’re looking to build out a 5.1-channel system for your home theater, Q Acoustics also offers the 3060S subwoofer and the 3090Ci center channel.

On their own, however, a pair of Q-Acoustics 3020i’s fabulous for both music and TV/film presentations, especially in a small to mid-sized room. Honestly, these two-way, rear-ported speakers could easily pass for floor-standers. On the cinematic front, they swept me away with precisely calibrated dialog, dynamic in-motion sound effects, and robust scoring.

Test equipment and selections

My test equipment included a Sonos Connect:Amp and a Sony UBP-X800 Universal Ultra-HD Blu-ray/CD/SACD/DVD-A/streaming-video player. With 55 watts per channel, the Sonos falls smack dab in the middle of the recommended power range (25 to 75 watts) for the moderately sensitive (88dB) 3020is. Sufficient to crank the speakers to a Spinal Tap-ish “eleven” with most content in my family room, though really sounding at their best at the middle of the amp’s range.

q acoustics 3020i graphite grille off Q Acoustics

Yes, these are bookshelf speakers, but they beg for placement on stands so you can set them a little further from the wall behind them. 

These ears also obsessed over made-abroad musical content, from Sting’s arresting Live in Berlin, videoed in concert with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophone/UMG Blu-ray disc, to the newly unearthed (by Columbia Legacy) 1960  Euro concert sessions of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (The Final Tour – The Bootleg Series Volume 6). Yes, the quintet romps through the likes of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” and “All Blues” in pristine monaural. And everything is firmly phantom-centered on the Q Acoustics; yet, there’s a sense of staggered depth and room ambience in the playback that sounds 3D-ish!

I also streamed the new self-titled set by Cuban mambo jazz band Orquesta Akokan (on the Daptone label.) The 3020i charmingly celebrate both the quaint, brassy sound of the ensemble, and the fabled, resonant qualities of the wood-paneled Areito studios at EGREM, the state-owned music complex in Havana where Buena Vista Social Club also recorded.