Cool Tech Reviews

Just Cool Tech

December 11, 2006

What the heck are Heelys?

I’ve seen more gadgets than I would care to enumerate, but there’s always a new one. I got tipped off to Heelys by a post from Bill Tancer at Web measurement firm Hitwise:

Tomorrow we’ll be releasing our hot searched-for-products of this holiday season. As a little taste of whats coming, over the last several weeks, we’ve noticed a steady increase in searches for Heelys (the tennis shoes with wheels responsible for many mall near-collisions).

One of the best ways to gauge consumer interest in a product is to chart the volume of queries on that product or brand over time. Here’s the Heelys chart:

Click through for the chart, but Heelys really seem to be hot this holiday season.

I don’t know if you can see the details in this Amazon ad:

but basically Heelys are a pair of conventional shoes with a wide wheel in the heel. They come in various styles for men, women, and children and apparently the more agile wearers can perform the equivalent of roller skating or roller blading by rocking back on the heels. There are some fairly frenetic videos of Heelys wearers on YouTube like this one, but here’s one that’s more sedate and gives the idea:

You couldn’t get me in Heelys, but they look amusing for the younger crowd.

Posted at 7:28 pm. Filed under Companies, Heelys, Odd gadgets

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December 3, 2006

GPS on the holiday gift list?

Matt Vella at Business Week points out the growing trend for affordable GPS systems and as a result, how they are showing up on gift lists this holiday season:

But consumers are no longer waiting for the devices to be offered by auto manufacturers. Indeed, the market for personal navigation devices has exploded over the last two years. Those systems, made by the likes of Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan, offer the same features as those available in cars, but they’re portable and cost anywhere from 50% to 80% less. The Consumer Electronics Assn. predicts that as many as 2.3 million such units will ship in the U.S. this year. Analysts say that would represent a growth of 100% from last year.

Another catalyst of growth is the falling price and improving performance of the computer chips that run the devices. “That chip that a few years ago cost $30 is now just $10,” says Rich Valera, an analyst with Needham & Co. in New Jersey. “It’s the economics of silicon—price comes down, performance goes up. The inexorable trend is, then, a proliferation of GPS devices.”

Prices for popular portable navigation devices have dropped at the retail level as well, fueling demand. According to NDP Group, the average price of GPS systems dropped to $616 during the third quarter of this year. That’s a drop of more than 30%, from an average of $863, since the same time last year.

Actually, as you’ll see below, you can do much better than that on price. Also as a clear indicator of a maturing market, the article describes how more manufacturers are jumping on board and all of them seem to be bundling in more functions like MP3 playing and real-time traffic reports as well as building specialized devices with GPS functionality like the HP iPAQ rx5900 ”travel companion” palmtop and the Mio DigiWalker H610 which offers GPS for walkers.

As useful as these specialized devices might be, I thought I’d check to see what was available in ordinary GPS units for the car. Frankly, there are so many of them that I used Amazon Electronics Top Seller list as a guide to pick two hot units and see what they had to offer. I’ll start with the Garmin StreetPilot c330 GPS Vehicle Navigator which is currently number 5 on the Top Seller list and is going for $300 (list price $964.99):

This unit was introduced in 2005  and does exactly what you need for auto navigation for what is now a bargain price. Features:

Reviews ([1], [2], [3]) are uniformly good except that all the reviewers complain that the screen washes out and is hard to read in bright sunlight. This doesn’t seem to be a huge problem for the purchasers who have reviewed it on Amazon, however.

If you are willing to take a step up in price there is the Garmin Nuvi 350 Pocket or Vehicle GPS Navigator with Integrated MP3 Player and Photo Viewer which as the name indicates adds other features to the GPS function, is #17 on the Amazon list, and is going for $484 (list $969):

The most obvious attraction of the Nuvi 350 is its compact size which allows you to easily carry it in a purse or pocket. That, of course, fits in with the ability to also use it as an MP3 player. More importantly for GPS use, it has all the expected features plus a new more sensitive GPS chipset (SiRFstar III) which gives better reception. Also, unlike the C330, the Nuvi 350 actually speaks the names of streets where you should turn. Reviews ([4], [5], [6]) are universally favorable including a PC Magazine Editor’s Choice, with the caveat that the list price was viewed as rather steep.  That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore.

I don’t think you will go wrong with either of these units, but if you can afford the extra, the Nuvi 350 seems like the way to go.

Posted at 9:13 pm. Filed under Companies, Garmin, GPS

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December 2, 2006

AMD in trouble with Quad FX

I’m a long time AMD fan, but they seem to be having difficulties making a case for their new Quad FX CPU platform. George Ou explains in AMD Quad FX slaughtered by a single Intel CPU:

All the reviews are in for AMD’s new “4×4″ Quad FX dual CPU platform and it loses nearly every single real world benchmark to a single Intel CPU while consuming more than twice the electricity.  We basically see two FX-74 3.0 GHz processors getting slaughtered by a single Intel QX6700 2.66 GHz quad core processor!  Ironically, three of the four benchmark sites I link to give such contradictory glowing conclusions for the Quad FX in spite of their own data showing AMD being slaughter that Baghdad Bob would be proud.  Here are the four reviews of which only TomsHardware had a realistic conclusion that matched their actual data.

From highly optimized multi-core applications like 3D rendering and Video encoding to single threaded applications like games the AMD Quad FX either lost by a little or it lost by a lot. 

The bottom line is that AMD has delivered a Frankenstein of a solution that guzzles a ton of power while delivering inferior performance.  I just don’t know of any other way to describe the AMD Quad FX platform.  While AMD has superficially (not on a clock-for-clock or overclocking potential basis) closed some of the performance gap, there is just no way for any sensible person other than diehard AMD fans to love the Quad FX.

For a dissenting opinion, refer to Charlie Demerjian’s article at the Inquirer:

AMD Quad FX is finally here, and the easy questions about what it is have been answered. The tricky questions are why you would want one, and what for.

If your application plays to the strengths of Intel, well Kentsfield will absolutely clobber AMD. Games and older single threaded apps are good examples of this, and they will be the predominant type of software for much of 2007. If you have things that need heavy memory access, FP laden work is a good example, or your games actually utilize multiple cores effectively, well AMD will trounce Intel. It all boils down to what software do you use and how do you use it?

Most people compare the QFX machines to Kentsfield as simple gaming boxes, and this is wrong. You can do it, and there is nothing technically incorrect, but that is not what AMD has been promising for this machine. People have been assuming since it was first announced that it would be the killer gaming rig, but that is simply not the case.

Having been at the initial coming out party over the summer, AMD was very clear that QFX was about doing more at the same time on a single box, they use the term megatasking. Basically, the AMD architecture is much better suited to doing many different tasks at once. There is no single bottleneck to force all the data through, so one core can utilize many more parts of the system without interfering with the other cores.

The down side to all of this is they lack the peak single threaded horsepower of a Kentsfield core, and will lag on apps that don’t need all that bandwidth. Basically take your pick of what you are going to run, a single game, or a few instances of an MMO, MP3s in the background, and maybe a game server. That more than anything will determine what you should buy.

Fair enough, but that market seems rather esoteric, at least today. I guess the bottom line is that you shouldn’t be buying a Quad FX unless you know exactly why it’s a good choice.

Posted at 9:59 am. Filed under AMD, Brands, Companies, Microprocessors, Quad FX

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