I thought, with 2015 now well underway that I’d update you on what hardware and software I’m using as there have been quite a few changes recently.
Self Build Desktop Workstation
Cost in 2014, £2,500 ($4,000) approx. My main PC has to do some very serious work including the production and rendering of 4K video and so I needed a very serious machine. I considered various OEM machines including from Scan (a UK vendor), Dell, Lenovo and even Apple, but eventually decided to design and build my own workstation.
This PC is based around an Ivy bridge Core i7 4930K extreme 6-core processor running at 3.4GHz. This is paired with 32GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory, an Asus P9X79 motherboard and twin Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 Overclocked 2GB graphics cards.
Storage is taken care of by a Samsung 840 EVO 500GB SSD, a separate WD Caviar 3TB hard disk and a FusionIO 410GB ioFX PCI SSD. All of this is wrapped in a Deep Silence 2 server case from Nanoxia and is paired with a Samsung U28D590D 28-inch 4K monitor with a 157.35 DPI and dot pitch of 0.1614mm. I use a Logitech K740 backlit keyboard and a Logitech Anywhere MX mouse, Philips SPA-5300 speakers and Logitech A-00006 headphones. This PC runs Windows 8.1 with Media Center 64-bit edition.
Dell XPS 13 (2015) Ultrabook
Cost in 2015, £1,300 ($2,000) approx. I recently sold my trusty Dell M6600 workstation laptop and downsized in size if not necessarily in power. I had considered a Surface Pro 3 and a Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, but I eventually decided on the Dell XPS 13 not because of its infinity display where the bezels around the screen are only 5mm thick, but for its price and specification. The Yoga 3 Pro has only an Intel Core M processor, which isn’t enough for the video editing I sometimes have to do on the move, and while the Surface Pro 3 was a specification match, it is much more expensive, and also as an author I can’t be without a proper keyboard.
The XPS 13 runs on a dual core Broadwell Intel Core i7 running at up to 3GHz (there’s no quad core option), 8GB 1,600MHz Ram (sadly there wasn’t a 16GB option and the memory is non upgradeable), a 512GB SSD and a 3200 x 1800 QHD+ 13.3-inch touchscreen running on the Intel HD5500 chipset. The screen has a DPI of 276.05 and a dot pitch of 0.092mm.
The Dell XPS 13 is a fantastic machine, extremely small and light while still maintaining the full power of the Core i7 processor. The backlit keyboard is comfortable to type on and the trackpad is easy to use and very responsive. I use a Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630 with this ultrabook. This ultrabook runs Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit edition.
HP Stream 7 Tablet
Cost in 2015, £100 ($150) approx. My tablet is a 7-inch HP Stream 7 tablet running on a 1.33GHz quad core Intel Atom with 1GB 1,333MHz Ram and 32GB eMMC storage (with a MicroSD slot to add up to 32GB more) with a 1280 x 800 touchscreen that has a DPI of 215.63 and a dot pitch of 0.1178mm.
The HP Stream 7 also comes with useful additions such as Miracast support, which will be useful for talks and presentations, though there’s no TPM for encryption unlike both my Desktop workstation and the Dell XPS 13. It’s a great little tablet and was bought for the times, which isn’t very often, when I’m lounging about on the sofa watching TV. Primarily though I needed a device with a screen of eight-inches or less to test the, still to be released, desktopless version of Windows 10 for my forthcoming books.
I also wanted a machine with only limited amounts of storage so that I could see what the Windows 10 upgrade experience would be like on these devices, especially when they get filled up with temporary files, photos and music. I’ve owned many tablets in the past few years that ranged from 12-inch screens and that have included a Surface RT and Surface 2. The HP Stream 7 is the smallest tablet I’ve owned and while there may not be major benefits over a phablet, seven or eight inches is definitely the sweet spot for me for tablet size.
ASUS Transformer Book T100
Cost in 2015, £300 ($450) approx. This isn’t my own purchase but a convertible tablet/laptop that was given to me by one of the organisations I teach for to use with students, but it’s wroth including in this list because it will also come in useful for testing the continuum feature in Windows 10. The ASUS Transformer Book T100 runs on an Intel Atom Z7340 that has a core clock speed of 1.33GHz and can burst up to 1.86GHz, it has 2GB Ram, 32GB eMMC storage and a 10-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 1366 x 768, a DPI of 156.71 and a dot pitch of 0.1621mm. The design of the ASUS Transformer Book T100 is extremely good if a little heavy.
It’s sturdy and designed to take a few knocks, but sadly the screen quality is poor and the keyboard attachment adds only a single USB 3 port and not a second battery. For those on a budget, or looking for a convertible laptop for children to use both at home and school the ASUS Transformer Book T100 is certainly robust enough to survive day to day use, the screen might be a little grainy but it’s perfectly usable under normal conditions and the storage can be expanded via a MicroSD card slot.
Like the HP Stream tablet it comes running the 32-bit version of Windows 8.1 with Bing, which also includes a one year subscription to Office 365 Personal, allowing you use of the full Office suite on one PC and a laptop along with 1TB of OneDrive storage, and this offer seriously contributes to making these devices tempting.
Abel M2 Micro PC
Cost in 2015, £835 ($1,280) approx. The replacement for my Acer Aspire L5100 Media Centre PC which served as the centre of my main source of live and recorded TV, not to mention my own video collection for some years is an Abel M2. This PC is bolted to the back of a Panasonic TX-58AX802B, 58-inch 4K TV (so chosen because for some reason only Panasonic offer DisplayPort inputs for PCs, and then only on the high-end models) with a VESA mount and packs a broadwell Core i5-5300U dual-core processor running at 2.3GHz, 8GB 1,333MHZ RAM, a 250GB M.2 drive and a 1TB 2.5-inch hard disk.
It’s running Windows 7, which is still the best experience for Windows Media Centre, but as its only used for TV and video there are no security risks come end of support for the OS. It’s paired with a PCTV Systems DVB-T2 292e USB HD TV tuner, and I chose it because its unusual (or at least was when I purchased it) to find PCs of this size with DisplayPort sockets, that come with a VESA mounting, and that are able to drive a 4K screen at a resolution of 3840 x 2160.
Nokia Lumia 1020 Smartphone (Yellow)
Free on contract in 2013. I bought my Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone on contract on the day it was released, and I’m not often an early-adopter. It is still though one of the best Windows Phones on the market and worth having for the 41MP camera alone.
The Lumia 1020’s specifications are now beginning to look a little dated against the competition, with a dual core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB Ram and 32GB of storage but Windows Phone is a very undemanding OS and apps always speed along on its 1280 x 768, 4.5-inch screen.
Later in 2015 it will be time to upgrade to a new phone and I’m eager to see what promised flagship Windows 10 phone(s) Microsoft will release, and if any of them will include the great camera that I enjoy using in my Lumia 1020. Failing that the HTC M9, if released in a Windows variant, will be my likely second choice for an upgraded handset.
Microsoft Lumia 640 XL LTE, Dual-SIM (Orange)
Cost in 2015, £160 ($250) approx. This smartphone was originally purchased as a test handset for Windows 10 Mobile when writing my new Windows 10 books, as the betas at the time were too unstable on my main phone. This Lumia 640 XL is dual-SIM and pairs a 5.7-inch screen, running at a resolution of 1280 x 720, with a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB RAM and 8GB internal storage (with a MicroSD slot).
It features a 13MP camera and while it lacks the wireless charging of my Lumia 1020, the dual-SIM and large screen made it useful to demonstrate features of the Windows Phone OS that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to show. It was also chosen because it’s SIM-compatible with my 1020, the better 830 and 930 handsets both requiring nano SIMs instead of the Micro SIMs used here. I was also curious how I would get on with a phablet, so I thought I’d give it a try. I may sell this phone when the books are written, or I may keep it as a spare/test handset. That’s yet to be decided.
JVC GC-PX100 Video Camera
Cost in 2013, £1,000 ($1,500) approx. I’ve used my JVC GC-PX100 full HD video camera for a couple of years now and, until I move to full 4K which I shall most likely do later in the year, there is no need to move away from this video camera. The picture and sound quality is broadcast standard but it was the size and weight of the camera that attracted me to it when I first saw one at a trade show.
At just 110mm x 76mm x 183mm with the lens hood, and weighing just 625g it’s a perfect size and weight for slinging into a small bag or luggage for when I’m travelling, such as to the MVP Summit at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond (WA) each year, where I always film some segments for videos.
The JVC GC-PX100 can also film up to 60fps, though admittedly at a low resolution but it’s the 40Mbps (36Mbps video and 4Mbps audio) data rate that helps raise the quality of the video it records to broadcast standard. In this camera I exclusively use Sandisk Extreme SD Cards as I have found them to be extremely quick and very reliable.
Olympus LS-100 and LS-14 Audio Recorders
Cost in 2013, £300 and £150 ($460 and $230) approx. I use two portable audio recorders for when I’m making videos and giving talks, both from Olympus. The LS-100 and LS-14 are designed for musicians, with the LS-100 even offering two XLR inputs, and the sound quality from these recorders is truly exceptional with crisp, clear audio even from a few feet away. Both audio recorders have audio inputs and I use a clip-on lavalier microphone with a belt mount for when I’m talking to camera from a distance.
These audio recorders aren’t much more expensive than a regular Dictaphone but include many advanced features such as full audio control and even editing, and SD card support, so if you’re looking for a recorder for work or to record lectures at college, they’re well worth considering. I’ve had these recorders for a couple of years now and for a fair few years to come there will be no reason at all for me to upgrade.
EditorsKeys SL600 Microphone
Cost in 2015, £200 ($300) approx. This summer I upgraded my microphone to the excellent EditorsKeys SL600 USB production microphone. With a huge 34mm gold-plated diaphragm, high speed DA/AD converter, independent gain and output controls and a low cut -10dB switch, it delivers the best audio quality of any microphone I’ve yet used.
The audio from the SL600 is absolutely crystal clear, and as such I can’t see myself changing from this microphone for many years to com (until it eventually breaks basically).
The list of software I use is fairly extensive, but every package offers something unique that helps me with my work. Here are the highlights.
- Microsoft Office 2013 (and Office 365)
- Sony Vegas Pro 13 Suite
- Adobe Creative Cloud
- Techsmith Camtasia Studio
- Techsmith SnagIt
- Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000