Microsoft Surface 3

Is the Surface 3 the ultimate portable computer?

I have owned and used a number of laptops over the years. I’ve had everything from big, fast gaming laptops through Apple Macbook Pros to small, underpowered netbooks.

Why did I decide the Microsoft Surface 3 with it’s Atom processor and 10.8 inch display was the perfect device for me in 2016?

Performance

The Surface 3 is not a powerhouse. Let’s just say that right now. My entry-level device has a quad-core Atom X7 processor, 64GB storage and 2GB RAM. That said, it’s perfectly capable of doing what I want to do which comprises:

  • Watching streaming video (YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix) in 1080p
  • Web browsing
  • Email
  • Taking notes (with OneNote)
  • Accessing systems via RDP, VNC and SSH
  • Occasionally using Office applications (Word, Excel etc)

I have a powerful desktop PC for other things like gaming and development. Unless your laptop is your only computer, I would suggest you don’t need a machine with much more power – and the downsides of a more powerful machine (battery life, weight, size, heat) to my mind outweigh the benefits.

Form Factor

The Surface 3 weighs 621 grams (1.37 lbs) without the keyboard. With the keyboard it weighs 885g (1.95 lbs). By way of comparisson, the 11 inch Macbook Air – constantly touted by tech media as the perfect portable device – weighs 1.08kg (2.38 lbs). That is 22% heavier. Without touchscreen. Yes it’s a considerably faster device but what do you really need an ultraportable laptop for anyway?

What do tech journos who go on endlessly about the Macbook Air do 99% of the time? Blog. Or use twitter. Hmm….

Flexibility

Need a keyboard? Attach the Typecover. Want to take notes? Detach the keyboard and use the Microsoft Pen. Watching streaming video? Remove the Typecover, fire up your app of choice, set the kickstand to the angle you prefer and enjoy….

I really do think the Surface 3, at the time of writing, is the perfect portable computer.

For those who need more power

Laptops are constrained by space, power and thermal envelope design considerations. Get a desktop computer for power-hungry tasks and a small machine for using when you’re out and about. It’ll be a better experience 😉

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

Crystal Dynamics 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot – just called Tomb Raider – was a good game.

The sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, took all the good parts of the 2013 game and improved pretty much everything.

I’d rate it 8/10. Minus 2 for : baffling card system that seems to serve no purpose;  DLC (if I buy a game, I expect the whole game – don’t sell whole game modes for additional cost!)

The graphics are fantastic.  I was playing about with Geforce Experience with Rise of the Tomb Raider – watch it on Youtube

 

 

Managing Hyper-V Core

I thought I’d make a few notes here on Hyper-V 2012R2 Server, the free hypervisor from Microsoft that I use at home on an old PC.

At work we use VMWare vSphere for various reasons – but this doesn’t come cheap. For home use, Hyper-V 2012R2 makes a great solution and hardware support is arguably better than VMWare ESX.

Server Core

Hyper-V 2012 Server doesn’t provide the full Windows server user interface that you may be used to. Below is a screenshot of the interface you get when you connect over RDP.

hyperv-core-ui

Pretty spartan, eh? To be able to manage your Hyper-V server and VMs, you’ll need to install Hyper-V Manager. This is available as an optional component on Windows 8.1 / Windows 10 systems.

hyper-mgr

 

 

 

 

 

After I had installed Hyper-V Manager locally, I had to write a batch script that executed the following and then set the shortcut to run this with Administrative privileges:

cmd /b /c C:\WINDOWS\System32\mmc.exe C:\Windows\System32\virtmgt.msc

QNAP iSCSI Volumes with Hyper-V

I wanted to be able to use iSCSI LUNs from my QNAP NAS with Hyper-V. It was quite straightforward to set this up using How to create and use the iSCSI target service on a QNAP Turbo NAS.

On the Hyper-V side, simply run iscsicpl to discover LUNs and then Disk Management to partition and format as required.

iscsicpl

However, my entry-level TS-412 with its 256MB RAM and 1.2GHz Feroceon 88F6281 ARM processor wasn’t really able to provide acceptable performance for a primary system drive so instead I use Windows Server Backup to backup one of my domain controllers onto an iSCSI LUN.  I’m sure if I had a faster NAS, iSCSI would have worked better as a VM datastore – which would have been preferable to using the single internal drive on my Hyper-V server with the resilience implications that go along with that.

 

Home tech

Virtualisation

I use my previous PC, an Alienware X51 R1, as a server for running VMs. It runs Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 R2. This is available to download and use free.

I run 3 VMs on this:

2 x Windows Server 2012 R2 servers (domain controllers)
1 x Ubuntu 14.04 Server (development/testing)

Primary PC

My main PC, Asgard,  is a PC Specialist machine running Windows 10 Pro.

Specs:

CPU: Intel Core i7-5820K
ASUS X99-S motherboard
RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengence LPX
GPU: nVidia GTX980Ti
STORAGE: 500GB Samsung 850Evo SSD, 256GB Samsung 840Pro SSD, 1TB Seagate HDD, 750GB Western Digital HDD
DISPLAY: Dell U2713HM + Dell U2414H
CASE: Corsair Carbide Air 540
KEYBOARD: WASD Code V2 (Cherry MX Clears)
MOUSE: Roccat Kone XTD
HEADSET: Logitech G930

Laptop

Microsoft Surface 3 (10.8″ screen, 2GB RAM, 64GB storage, typecover, pen, 64GB micro-SD).

Network Storage

QNAP TS-412 (4x1TB Western Digital Red) in RAID-5

 

 

ebook readers

I can’t remember the last time I bought a paper book that also had an ebook version available. Even my wife – with her somewhat luddite tendencies and misgivings about ebooks (“I like the feel of books”, “I don’t want to read on a screen”, etc) – was a convert after I speculatively bought her an Amazon Kindle one Christmas. More surprisingly, my parents each bought Kindles despite similar misgivings. I just can’t see why anyone would prefer paper books in 2016.

I’ve tried various readers and the device that works best for me is the Apple iPad Mini (Mini 4). It’s not too heavy, the battery life at 10 hours is more than enough, the screen is a delight and it can do more than only read ebooks if needed.

I use both the iBooks and Kindle apps but I prefer the Kindle app as it’s not locked in to the Apple ecosystem.

Here’s some thoughts on what makes a good ebook reader

Size and weight
It doesn’t matter what amazing functionality your device has, what resolution the screen is, how many days the battery lasts or how many ebook formats it supports. If you can’t read it one handed, in bed, you probably won’t use it after the novelty has worn off. Choose a device that you can hold comfortably for several hours without aching.

Screen
You’re going to be looking at your ebook reader a lot – possibly several hours a day. In various lighting conditions. If you know you’ll be reading in direct sunlight – such as on a beach or by the pool – go e-ink (Kindle, Sony). Get a backlit e-ink screen if you plan to read in the dark and don’t want to have to have a lamp on. Go LCD if you will mainly read indoors and want a device that can also play video, browse the web etc. For LCD displays, resolution is important. You don’t want to see the pixels.

Feel
It needs to feel nice in your hand(s). Soft touch and non-slippery are key. Get a case for your Apple devices – that aluminium and glass beauty looks lovely but they are slippery and get scratched/dinged easily. Don’t get a screen proctor. Ever. Plastic or tempered glass. They are just awful.

Stores / Format Support
You probably don’t want to be locked into one ecosystem, particularly a hardware vendors ecosystem. My first ebook reader was a B&N Nook which was cheap and pleasent enough to use so I bought a number of books from the Nook book store. B&N no longer sell in the UK so unless I want to move my library over to Sainsbury’s yet-to-be-launched service, I can’t read them. Grr. Kindle Apps are available on most platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, etc) so Kindle is probably the best way to go.

Hi

Hello and welcome to my blog.

About Me

I work for a software company based in Cambridge, England, where I am responsible for technical operations (IT/infrastructure, customer technical support).

I am married and have a dog, a cat and no kids.

I have opinions – and this blog is full of them. You have opinions. We may disagree. If we all agreed on everything, life would be dull.