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Posted on Jan 19, 2018 in Newsletter, Welcome | 0 comments

TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 56 – CES round-up and is your PC going to get slower in 2018?

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TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 56

Hi, welcome to the January 2018 TWT Newsletter

Happy New Year once again! For those of you that celebrate Christmas, we hope you had an enjoyable and memorable time. January is the time of year when the tech industry shows off all its newest wares at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Just like last year, we’ve a run-down on what’s hot for Windows users at this years show. We’ve also got an alarming report on a new security problem that may mean your PC gets a little slower this year.

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In this months issue:-

CES Returns in 2018 – Here are our picks from the show floor
Tip of the Month –  Wildcards are well worth knowing about!
Free Utility of the Month – MusicBee
Windows Store App of the Month – Minecraft for Windows 10
Are computers going to get slower in 2018?

CES Returns in 2018 – Here are our picks from the show floor

Another new year, another Consumer Electronics Show in January! While CES isn’t as important or exciting for the world of PCs and Windows as it once was, there are still some interesting and often bizarre products launched at the show that may pique your interest. To save you scouring the nerd-news on the internet, we’ve once again picked out our stand-out products and news items from the show.

We start with the news that Microsoft Cortana is to be joined on the Windows PC by Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa. Alexa has been in several smart-home products and now Amazon wants to roll the technology out to other platforms too. According to various sources, Alexa has 25,000 “skills” compared to Cortana’s measly 230, making the Amazon digital assistant much more flexible. Even so, we’re not sure that digital assistants are terribly useful on most PCs anyway. What’s the point of trying to talk to your computer when it’s quicker to type or use the mouse? It’s hard to see Alexa coming to Windows as anything but a blow to Microsoft, who hoped Cortana would gain traction on other platforms after users found her indispensable on their PCs. 

Initially, Alexa will be coming to Acer, Asus, Lenovo and HP systems, with wider availability almost certain to follow. Alexa was also seen at the show spreading her digital wings onto smart washing machines, lighting devices and microwaves.

Smart-phones – With the disappointing news that Windows Phone is to be discontinued, there were, as you may have expected, no new Windows Phones at the show. Microsoft is now concentrating on bringing Android and iOS into the Windows ecosystem as smoothly as possible, allowing you to work seamlessly between your phone and your PC. There were the usual mix of new phones announced from major players such as Sony and LG, but little of specific interest to Windows users.

Tablets – Windows tablets remain a popular alternative to both Android and iOS tablets, offering greater flexibility and professional computing power than the alternative products. As we’ve seen in previous years, the line between laptop and tablet gets increasingly blurred, with many devices offering either removable keyboards or flip style screens that can fold down and convert into a tablet.

Asus’ impressively equipped Zenbook Flip 14 is one machine that caught our eye. Featuring the latest 8th Generation Intel CPUs, a fancy active stylus pen with 1024 pressure levels and fast charge technology, this convertible tablet/notebook is highly desirable. Expect to see it on the shelves in March for around $900. Click here to read more about the Zenbook Flip 14.

Lenovo had a range of Windows tablets on show. Their swish looking ThinkPad X1 Tablet was another eye catching convertible. Reminiscent of the Microsoft Surface, this little power-house packs an 8th Gen Intel processor, 13 inch 3K display, dual Thunderbolt ports, support for Windows Hello (facial recognition, allowing you to log onto your PC by simply looking at it) and comes with the digital assistant Alexa pre-installed. Another feature of this machine that many long-time PC users will appreciate is its “Field Serviceable” hard drive and battery. Not so long ago it would have seemed absurd, but as tablets and laptops have gotten smaller, more and more of them have used custom, integrated parts for their hard drives and batteries that can’t be removed and replaced easily. 

Prices for the new ThinkPad X1 are yet to be confirmed, but this is clearly a premium product. Click here to read more.

Laptops – The laptop remains the most popular way to buy a PC, with portability and enough computational power to suit most users. This year at CES there was lots of buzz about more affordable gaming laptops thanks to new collaborative graphic chip designs from AMD and Intel.

HP had updates to its popular Spectre range of laptops. While a solid but unremarkable machine, this laptop will be the first to have an Intel CPU coupled with AMD Radeon RX Vega graphics. This is notable as AMD have been a long time rival of intel, who previously preferred to develop their own graphics processing units. It’s hoped this partnership will lead to affordable yet powerful laptops that will be almost as great for gaming as they are for working on.

If portability is your highest priority, Acer’s Swift 7 now holds the record for the thinnest laptop in the world. This slim little device is just 8.98mm thick. Despite it’s diminutive size it still manages to have a Core i7 processor, 8gb ram and a 256gb SSD. Price is expected to be around $1,699 or £1,400.

Beloved by business and anyone needing a no-nonsense, powerful work laptop, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen) was the captain sensible of laptops on display at the show. Packing an 8th generation Intel processor, Thunderbolt and USB ports and a choice of full HD or 3k displays, this laptop has the power and specs to suit all business professionals. Lenovo claim their laptops are “tested against 12 military-grade requirements and more than 200 quality checks to ensure they run in extreme conditions”, making them ideal for life on the road (we’re not sure if that includes children’s sticky fingers however). Read more about the Thinkpad Carbon here.

Traditional PCs – The traditional tower or desktop PC still offers the best bang for the buck for creative professionals, gamers and power users. Even in this sector, smaller is becoming more popular, with few hulking towers on display. 

Intel were showing off their NUC8i7HVK, or “Hades Canyon” mini-PC. Boasting the latest in Intel Core i7 processors, this little powerhouse was designed to power virtual reality experiences, despite being smaller than the average PC graphics card at 8.7 x 5.6 x 1.5 inches. Still, this is relatively big for a mini-PC, to make up for the increase in size, the machine packs Thunderbolt and USB connectors, twin Displayport outputs, HDMI, Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Tom’s Hardware has the full scoop here.

The “All in one” form factor remains popular too. Forgoing the bulky tower or desktop case, an all in one PC places all the hardware inside the monitor, minimising clutter on your desk. Asus showed off a range of these neat little PCs, each boasting an eighth generation Intel processor, but only a relatively humble Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. has more details on these machines here.

We’ve mentioned the HP Sprout computer before, a custom designed workstation for graphics professionals and 3D artists. If you like the Sprout’s 3D scanner, but don’t need the full Sprout PC, you can soon get the camera as a standalone peripheral. This clips over your monitor and can then scan any item placed beneath it, turning it into a 3D object. If you’ve gotten into Windows Paint 3D or mixed reality, it’s a great little accessory, though at around $600 not one that’s exactly cheap. Ars Technica have the full scoop here.

Awesome accessories – Hard drives come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want affordable, you have to choose between high capacity and high speed. Sadly that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon, but if your pockets are deep enough, say hello to the Thunderblade V4 from Other World Computing. Touted as the fastest external hard drive on the market today and available in capacities up to 8TB, this beast of a drive will set you back at least $1200 when it launches later this year. Get the scoop from OWC’s webpage here.

CES is always about bigger and better, so what better place to preview the worlds biggest gaming monitor, The Nvidia BFGD monitor. No, the ‘F’ in the name isn’t an expletive, it stands for “Big Format Gaming Display”. At a whopping 65 inches, it’s certainly what most people would consider big and could easily replace a TV in a living room. Unlike any TVs on the market however, the BFGD has gamer specific features like GSync, low input lag and 120hz output. Definitely a contender for the best TV for any serious gamer. Pricing is yet to be announced but you can read more about these new monster monitors on Nvidia’s website here.

Elsewhere on the show floor there was the usual mix of weird and wonderful, from machines that fold your clothes to see through self driving delivery busses. Overall though there were few surprises for PC users this year, but some welcome and interesting updates to existing hardware.

Tip of the Month – Wildcards are well worth knowing about!

If you’re used to working with Windows, then you’ve hopefully mastered how to search for files using the Start menu, or in Windows Explorer or File Explorer. If not, you can check out our tutorials here (for Windows 10) or here (for Windows 8) or here (for Windows 7). 

If you’re searching for a file and Windows is coming up blank, then using a wildcard character might help you. While it might sound like something more useful to you while playing Poker, a wildcard, represented by a asterisk (*) character, actually means “anything”. 

Here’s an example. If you have a file called “my-holiday-photograph1.jpg”, in your pictures folder, you might expect to find that by searching for “holiday”. However, that might not always work. A search run through the Start menu or via Cortana should find the file, but the search box in a file requester may not. Instead, try searching for *holiday*. The wildcards, as we said before, mean “anything”, so you’re telling the PC to specifically search for any file with the word “holiday” in it.

Wildcards are used by lots of third party software too, so they are a handy thing to know about. You could list all the jpeg photograph files in a folder, for example, by searching for “*.jpg”, which will then find all the files with a .jpg file extension. It may seem complicated at first but give it a go yourself, go on, go wild!

Free Utility of the Month – MusicBee

Looking for a fast, powerful and feature rich alternative to Winamp, Groove Music, Windows Media Player or iTunes? If so, MusicBee could be just what the disco doctor ordered. With advanced features like ASIO output, Graphic Equalizer, LastFM support and plugins, MusicBee is considered by many to be the spiritual successor to the seemingly defunct Winamp and is free of the bloat and clunkiness of Apple’s iTunes.

For anyone that likes to blast out tunes while they work on their PC, MusicBee is an essential download, grab it for free here.

Windows Store App of the Month – Minecraft for Windows 10

Now no longer in beta testing, Minecraft for Windows 10 remains the most accessible way to dive into the block building phenomenon on your Windows 10 PC. While it lacks some of the advanced features of the original Java version (available here), it still has more than enough building fun to satisfy all but the most hardcore Minecrafters. 

With easy multi-player, improved performance and full controller support, kids of all ages (and grown ups too!) will have endless fun with this title, which encourages them to explore and be creative in ways that other video games simply cannot. It’s the ideal post-homework video game for cold winter evenings.

Grab Minecraft for Windows 10 from the Windows Store here.

Are computers going to get slower in 2018?

2018 is already off to a bad start as the breaking news is that two serious security vulnerabilities have been uncovered in computer CPU (central processing units). These CPUs are the “brain” of your computer, responsible for running programs and moving data and information around your PC. Unfortunately, it seems a fundamental flaw in the design of these chips could potentially allow nefarious hackers and online criminals to access sensitive information about your computer, information that should usually be locked away and only used by low-level system processes. These new bugs have been given the names “Meltdown” and “Spectre”.

Normally bugs like these are alarming, but are quickly patched by software vendors. Windows downloads the patches automatically and we breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we’re (relatively) safe until the next security problem is uncovered. Things are a little different this time, as unfortunately, in order to patch this vulnerability, some design changes need to be done to the inner working of Windows (and Linux, and Mac OSX) which result in performance being decreased, perhaps by as much as 30%.

Before you rush to return that Christmas laptop, we should state that  30% should be considered a worst case scenario and the impact is likely to be much less than that for most folks. The actual performance penalty depends on what you’re doing on your PC, with databases and spreadsheets affected the most, while gaming and working with video are barely affected at all.

We shouldn’t need to say this, but we do NOT recommend trying to avoid patches/updates in order to keep that extra bit of computer performance. Microsoft changed the updating process in Windows 10 so that updates can’t be easily skipped anyway, because skipping them is never really a good idea. Occasionally a bad update can cause headaches with your PC, but it’s far less traumatic than a security breach or hack attack that can see money stolen from your bank account, your personal details shared online or other such undesirable outcomes.

The most serious of these two new bugs, the one known as “Meltdown”, affects only Intel CPUs.  Unfortunately, Intel processors are present in a huge number of PCs. Windows was recently patched to prevent attacks using this particular bug and it is this patch that may affect performance in some machines. AMD CPUs are affected only by the Spectre bug. Spectre is harder to exploit but also harder to patch and may require software updates for your apps as well as for Windows. If you don’t know what type of processor your computer uses, you can usually tell by looking for a sticker on its case.

As computers and smart devices are used more and more for shopping, banking and similar activities, they will remain a tempting target for cyber criminals. Meltdown and Spectre are some of the first major exploits we’ve seen this year, but they’re unlikely to be the last. Happy New Year!

That rounds off our first newsletter for 2018. On behalf of everyone here at Top-Windows-Tutorials, I’d like to thank you all for your continuing support and of course, to wish you a happy and prosperous 2018. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th February 2018 and will bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows 7 Windows 8 or Windows 10. We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking, and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!

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