Are considering replacing your current Windows 7 or earlier PCs AND implementing a Powerful/Portable 2014 Windows 8.1 Personal Computing Environment that should last you for several years to come? Look no further! Reading this article and others on this website should help understand how to approach the upgrade of your own personal computing environment to take full advantage of today’s Personal Computing technologies.
Since Windows 8 became available, in the fall of 2012, I have been studying how to convert my current Windows 7 computing environment to take full advantage of the newer technologies. My motivation increased further, in the fall of 2013, with the release of Windows 8.1 and the availability of newer touch screen computers incorporating the latest Intel chip technologies.
As presented in previous articles, I own three computers in different locations: two Windows 7 traditional desktops with towers and a Windows 8.1 (14”) Lenovo laptop. All these configurations are for heavy business computing. I also use a Samsung Note 1 phablet as my mobile phone and tablet.
One important parameter in my search for a solution is to downsize to one PC without giving up power and the use of multiple large monitors in each location. Another is to closely integrate my Windows 8.1 PC environment and my Android Tablet/Phone (Phablet) environment, to seamlessly share between these operating systems. I also want to easily take full advantage of the unique functionalities offered by Windows 8.1 and Android.
In the following paragraphs, I will present a set of building blocks to achieve the full solution I am implementing. This will allow you to pick and choose the components that are important to you in order to create your own personal computing environment based on your own requirements.
For portability, I needed a laptop (Traditional, Ultra-Light or Tablet). After looking at what was available, the use of a traditional laptop (5 pounds) was the only solution I found. The Ultra-Lights or the Tablets don’t yet provide the power I was looking for. The main reason is that you need fans to dissipate the heat generated by the powerful processors. I also was looking for a large 15+ inch monitor for when I don’t have the use of my large home monitors. Finally, to be able to use the Samsung’s SideSync application, I needed a SideSync enabled Samsung PC.
My choice was the Samsung ATIV Book 6 laptop ($1,093 on Amazon). This laptop offers the following:
- An Intel® Core™ i7 Processor 3635QM (6,405 CPU Mark=Powerful).
- Main memory= 8 Gb upgradable to 16Gb (Very respectable for power).
- 1Tb 5400rpm hard drive upgradable to SSD memory for super-fast performance.
- 15.6 inches LED full HD (1920 x 1080) touch monitor (clear quality picture).
- AMD Radeon™ HD 8770M Graphics card for fast action monitor performance.
- Multiple ports to support most requirements: VGA, HDMI, Sound In/Out, 2 x USB 3.0 (fast) plus 2 x USB 2.0, Multi SD card slot, RJ45(LAN),…
- Up to 4.7 hours battery.
- Windows 8 that I will upgrade to Windows 8.1 Pro and add Media Center Pack.
- SideSync from Samsung.
This black aluminum (sturdy) laptop weighs 5.38 pounds for portability.
NOTE: If you want to use Windows 8 but don’t want to spend on a new PC, consider adding touch capabilities with the Targus Touch Pen for Windows® 8 ($100) or the EFUN Windows 8 Touch Pen (TOUCH8) ($61.98), for example. Visit the Targus web site and view the video for more info. I have not used and cannot comment on this product.
Optional base computer upgrades
The above base laptop is a powerful computer as is. But, for a few dollars more, it can be upgraded to become a very powerful and responsive machine. Here are the upgrades:
- Replace the 1Tb hard disk with 256Gb SSD circuit memory ( Samsung Electronics 840 Pro Series 2.5-Inch 256 GB SATA 6GB/s Solid State Drive MZ-7PD256BW ) ($210). This will reduce boot time next to nothing and significantly improve overall performance. Follow the instructions in the following very well done YouTube video to change the hard drive to SSD: Quick Guide to install SSD in a Samsung ATIV Book.
- Re-use the 1Tb hard disk you have replaced by SDD memory by inserting it into an external hard drive case such as, for example, the Sabrent USB 3.0 To 2.5-Inch Sata Aluminum Hard Drive Enclosure Black (BK-21OS2) ($16.99). This will provide you with an external USB 3.0 1Tb hard drive for storing backups and other content such as videos for example.
- Double the main memory to 16Gb. (Samsung ATIV Book 6 680Z5E Memory Upgrades) ($75). Not as important as the 256Gb SSD circuit memory.
Docking Station and Large Monitors
- To connect multiple components to a laptop that you need to carry around and/or to get additional ports, the best alternative is to use a PC Docking Station. This allows you to connect most/or all your peripherals to the Docking Station and link them to your PC via a single cable that is easy to connect and disconnect at will. In my case, I need to connect two large touch monitor plus numerous other devices via a Docking Station. Since I wanted the faster USB 3.0 connection I have chosen, for example, the Plugable UD-3900 USB 3.0 Universal Docking Station with Dual Video Outputs for Windows 8.1, 8, 7, XP ($129)
- Since I already had one large touch monitor, an Acer T232HL bmidz 23-Inch Touch Screen LCD Display ($400), and was very pleased with it, I decided to order the 27 inch version: the Acer T272HL bmidz 27-Inch Touch Screen LCD Display ($550).
- For more desk space and to easily move the monitors around, I use Monitor Mounts, such as, for example: the Halter Single Pole With 2 Arm’s LCD Monitor Mount Stand desk clamp holds up to 27″ LCD monitors ($34.99).
- If you want to use Windows 8 touch but don’t have touch monitors and don’t want to spend on new touch monitors, consider adding touch capabilities with the Targus Touch Pen for Windows® 8 ($100) or the EFUN Windows 8 Touch Pen (TOUCH8) ($61.98), for example. Visit the Targus web site and view the video for more info. I have not used and cannot comment on this product.
NOTE: To calibrate your touch monitors view the following YouTube video: How to Calibrate your Touchscreen on Windows 8
- For a Bluetooth optical mouse, I use the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 – Black ($34.99). It is small, reactive and easy to carry around.
- For a carrying case for your new 15.6” laptop. For example: the Case Logic LAPS-116 15 – 15.6-Inch Laptop Sleeve (Black) ($13.98)
- For a USB 3.0 64Gb flash memory stick to be used to transfer files between computers and/or as a boot drive in case your hard drive quits on you. For example: the Transcend JetFlash 760 64 GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive TS64GJF760 (up to 85/25 MB/s) ($13.98)
- For a laptop cooling base, that connects to a USB port to power fans that will dissipate the processor generated heat and prevent your laptop from overheating. Most important for powerful laptops to dissipate the powerful processors generated heat. For example: the Gear Head USB Dual-Cool Notebook Cooling Pad – Black/Grey (ROHS) (CF3300BLK) ($11.98)
- For a USB 3.0 extension cable. For example: the Amazon Basics USB 3.0 A-Male to A-Female Extension Cable (6.5 feet/2.0 meters) ($5.99)
- For a portable CD/DVD Read/Write unit. For example: the Samsung USB 2.0 Ultra Portable External DVD Writer Model SE-218CB/RSBS ($33.95)
The Samsung SideSync application software runs on a designated set of Samsung products. The Samsung ATIV Book 6 laptop is one laptop it runs on. Check for other Samsung PCs with SideSync. In addition, the SideSync software is recommended for the Samsung Galaxy S2 and higher phones or the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and higher phablets. Functionality with other mobile devices cannot be guaranteed by Samsung.
SideSync Technology allows you to access all of your mobile device functions via a virtual phone on your desktop, move freely between your mobile device and PC while sharing your keyboard and mouse, drag and drop files into your mobile device, choose files to sync, and cut and paste between the two devices. It allows you to enjoy the Android functionality on your PC.
Other SideSync components:
- In my case, I own a Samsung Galaxy Note 1 which is not supported. Since I am very pleased with the Samsung Galaxy Note 1 size and functionality, to be able to use SideSync, I will upgrade to a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 ($650) which is more powerful and offers more functionality. As mentioned in previous articles, I always buy an unlocked international version so that I can use the same phone anywhere around the globe just by changing the SIM card.
- Protect your Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with a case such as the Bear Motion Premium Silky Folio Case for Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Note III (Black) ($8.99)
- I bought the Samsung Galaxy Smart Dock Multimedia Hub ($59.20) to connect the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to a SideSync enabled PC. The Samsung Galaxy Smart Dock Multimedia Hub provides a number of ports: HDMI, 3 x USB 2.0, a 3.5mm stereo audio connector and a MicroUSB charging built in port.
- I am looking at the Samsung Gear ($299 at Amazon) to get texts, emails and phone calls on the watch, make hands-free calls and find your phone amongst other things. I am not sure if I need such a device. It would become more useful to me if it could also be used as a golf GPS.
My Powerful/Portable 2014 Windows 8.1 Personal Computing Environment Schematic
Below you have the schematic of my new Powerful/Portable 2014 Windows 8.1 Personal Computing Environment schematic. This presents an overall picture on how most of the above components fit and connect in the overall configuration to provide a pleasant working environment.
Starting from the components described above and using the schematic below, you should pick and choose the components that are important to you in order to create your own personal computing environment based on your own requirements.
NOTE: In a few weeks, I will complete this article with comments on my experience after
using the above described computing environment for a while.
UPDATED & MODIFIED APPROACH-2012-12-15
As promised above, here are the facts following the implementation and use of the above target implementation:
- Windows 8 & 8.1 have a number of limitations that prevented the implementation of the Docking Station. Mainly, when you try to connect two touch screen monitors to your Windows 8.1 computer, the TOUCH functionality stops working on both monitors. The only way you keep the touch functionality on two monitors is to only connect ONE additional monitor to your touch enabled laptop and extend the monitors. This limitation rendered the use of the Docking Station useless since my laptop had all the required ports.
- Windows 8 & 8.1 leave a lot to be desired. Mainly, due to the fact that very few application programs support the new Windows 8 & 8.1 touch interface. Most programs operate with the traditional Windows 7 like interface. This results in a constant switching between both interfaces, which is quite confusing for most folks. My prediction is that most people will use Windows 8 & 8.1 with the Windows 7 interface as much as possible. This will require less adjustment on their part. It will take years, if ever, for the new Windows 8 & 8.1 touch interface to be used by most applications. I question how many application providers will be ready to invest to convert to the new interface if their application has little to gain.
- Since the benefits of using Windows 8 & 8.1 over Windows 7 are limited and require upgrading to touch screen monitors, this implies significant costs for limited benefits. I therefore believe that the corporate world will take a long time before moving to Windows 8 & 8.1. This is why I am also starting to believe that tablets may become a favorite way for corporations to implement new touch screen applications while minimizing costs. Microsoft’s Windows will continue to face stiff competition from both Google’s Android based tablets and Apple’s iPads. These products are miles ahead and these suppliers have started providing alternatives to Microsoft products, such as the new FREE Apple Office Apps on its Cloud and Google’s FREE Office like Cloud based Apps. What will the future bring?
- I implemented the free Office 365 trial. It is slow to load and I had to get used to a new interface. Due to the fact that all my files are already on the Dropbox Cloud, Office 365 brings me nothing over Office 2010 that I already own. If I need to share documents with coworkers, which is VERY rare in my case, I can always use Google for free, or shared files on Dropbox. Why spend the additional money?
Based on the above, I have resigned myself to implementing only one additional large
screen monitor, keeping Office 2010 and basically implementing all my old
applications that all operate in Windows 7 mode. I will use the new Windows 8
& 8.1 interface only when I can’t do without. This is from a knowledgeable
individual who always tries to use the latest technologies and keeps all its
software’s current. It tells a lot about the uphill battle that Microsoft faces
with the everyday user and the corporate world. Here is an article that
reiterate the same problems: 8 Reasons To Hate Windows 8.1
It does not mean that I am giving up on Windows 8 & 8.1, to the contrary, it’s an excellent product that Microsoft needed to come up with for its survival. What I am saying, is that the complexity of converting all PC users to a touch approach is difficult and costly. Often, in such situations, people turn to other easier and less costly alternatives. Therefore, everyone needs to keep an open mind when looking for solutions to fulfill their requirements versus trying to perpetuate their old habits. I hope that my articles are helping you in this quest!
Below is the revised schematic of my new computing environment: