Onega Authorised to sell Microsoft Surface Computer Range.

Microsoft's Surface range consists of the SurfacePro tablet computers (the current line-up includes the SurfacePro 3 and SurfacePro 4 series) and the SurfaceBook which is a convertible laptop that can run in traditional laptop or folded screen only mode. They were originally introduced by Microsoft as much to point the way to the rest of the computing industry on design and what could be achieved, as to an actual product to sell to users. Given that Microsoft produce the Operating System for the majority of computers in the world it is not good form to be seen as competing with your clients.

In the object of taking direction, Lenovo have done so with their successful Yoga range which includes a series of convertible computers and Fujitsu (who have always been strong in tablets) have brought out new convertibles in the form of the nattily named Stylistic R726 which has been well received. However, the success of the SurfacePro range has taken even Microsoft by surprise and they sold over six million units in 2015 with 2016 likely to be double that.

Onega have been working with Microsoft products since MS-DOS 3.2 and although Microsoft is primarily known for its software, they have, for many years, made hardware which is known for being at the premium end, but reasonably priced for what it is. For example you'd always find a safe and dependable choice in a Microsoft keyboard and mouse. The SurfacePro computers are definitely at the premium end of the market and are very slick computing devices which have had very good feedback from users.

Until now, availability of the computers has been quite limited so you'd have to go to John Lewis or other big retail providers, or buy direct on the MS Surface website. Microsoft is expanding its channel to selected partners and we're happy that Onega have been accepted in the latest round as an authorised reseller. This means that we can provide clients with best pricing and support on the Surface range.

In another innovation, Onega and Microsoft are also making it easy to access the benefits of the Surface range. You can take the traditional route and buy a SurfacePro or SurfaceBook, but we can now also offer the choice of 'Surface as a Service' which allows a bundle of Surface hardware, software (if needed) and services to be made available for a monthly subscription. When the hardware and the warranty services are bundled this way there is no barrier for obtaining the very latest technology, with the peace of mind of a full warranty including accidental damage cover and a very reasonable monthly investment - you should, in any case, make sure your computers are covered under your general business policy for loss or theft.

The Surface as a Service scheme offers same day finance acceptance and we only need basic details to get approval in principle.

What do we think of the Surface and why would you consider this vs competitors? The Surface is a very slick computer which provides a lot of computing power at your fingertips and runs full MS Office and other Windows apps. If you try the touch and pen interface for handwriting or just drawing on the screen then having only a keyboard again can feel limiting on any other laptop. Potentially the Surface can save you from needing to carry around both a laptop and an iPad.

Any computer is a compromise between cost / weight / capacity / build quality / speed / expandability / badge / serviceability etc.  We often think of a laptop as being the 'sports car' of the computer world in that they are great machines but you have to make choices (unless you have an unlimited budget) to get things right for your needs. The SurfacePro ticks most boxes. The one 'gotcha' with it is that, due to the focus on ultra slim build, the spec you buy is the spec you'll finish with, in that the case is glue sealed, so you cannot upgrade memory or storage. So it is important to specify enough up front for your foreseeable needs. The comprehensive extended service warranty means that any service problems are dealt with by an advanced swap out if you have any hardware issues.

Competitors like Apple also go for the sealed device approach (seen any screws on the back of your iPad lately?) but others like Fujitsu do allow for upgrades and servicing at the slight (very marginal) expense of size and weight.

Post Brexit the British pound has been dropping in value against both the Euro and US Dollar so computers have been going up in price lately but a good computer, at whatever price, is still excellent value, especially if you get a good few years' use out of it (big hint - best money - from £10 - you'll ever spend on a computer is on the case that protects your laptop).

Onega's aim is always to find the best fit for clients and to recommend the appropriate device for your needs - so please feel free to run any requirements by us and we'll be happy to discuss.

Happy computing.

Samsung Release Fix for Popular 840 EVO SSD Drive Performance Problems (again)

Samsung have released a new firmware update for their popular 840 EVO Solid State Drives. This fixes a problem that emerged on this series of drives which turned out to have an issue where performance (read and write speed) dropped off a cliff over time. This would turn a computer into one that initially was very quick, to one that becomes frustrating to use.

There was a fix for this problem released previously with a performance restore tool, but this appears to have been a temporary fix and the problem would later re-occur. So now in May 2015 Samsung have released a new firmware release for the 840 EVO SSD range, which promises to mitigate what is essentially a design fault in the drives for good.

We would thus strongly recommend that all clients with these popular drives in their computers apply the update via the Samsung Magician tool which is a free download from: http://www.samsung.com/global/business/semiconductor/minisite/SSD/global/html/support/downloads.html

For clients under managed service agreements (Proactive IT support contracts), where we can see from the IT audit tools that Onega use that you have these drives installed, we'll be in contact shortly to schedule these updates when convenient for you. For clients on PAYG support, we'll also be in contact to ask if you'd like us to do this for you or to recommend you do this yourself (it is quite straightforward if you are competent).

Once the new firmware is on, there is a tool in the Magician Software that does a full refresh of the drive data. This is non-destructive but not to be interrupted while it runs, which can take some hours, so best started off of an evening. This will restore or maintain the data on the drive and make your computers run like new again. As the performance drop is gradual, you often don't notice the performance drop occurring, so a pleasant speed surprise when this is run.

By way of background, if you like to understand how things work, as we do; here are the technical details of what is occurring behind the scenes. The Samsung 840 drives use 19nm flash cells, which store the individual memory bits in vast quantities in these SSDs. They have a 'feature' whereby the charge in the cells decays over time so that they can take a number of read request cycles to read the data. When the amount of data to read is multiplied by the vast number of memory cells in the drive, then performance drops to about the speed (or worse) of a traditional magnetic hard drive. The data affected thus are files not regularly written. Most of your operating system, programs after install and data files will fall into this category as the amount of data on a drive that is changed every day is actually typically very small.  The fix essentially causes the drive to periodically move data on the drive behind the scenes to refresh this and keep the performance up thus. This will come at the expense of drive life to a limited extent, though realistically a computer will likely be replaced before end of drive life anyway as in a few years time we'll likely have 10TB SSDs where we currently have common capacities of 250Gb, 500Gb or 1TB.

Onega's policy on SSDs is to generally install Intel drives as first choice as these have excellent performance and reliability. Samsung next as they are just behind and coming in at slightly lower price points and thus, if we can, avoid any other brand of SSDs (or fit as an exception). Importantly Intel and Samsung both make their own silicon so have best control over quality in manufacturing. We've found that some drives can fail in case of power interruption and that others that purport to offer double the capacity of any other drive for the money are cheap for a reason and thus represent a false economy in a business environment where you need performance and reliability from a drive.

The current generation of drives like the Samsung 840 EVOs have a typical life expectancy of around five years under reasonably heavy load which exceeds the expected life of an office PC. The very latest Intel SSDs like the new Intel 750 series drives have an MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) of 1.2 million hours, which works out to be 136 years which is pretty awesome and shows the unrelenting march of technology. By a back of envelope calculation you'd be running Windows 58 by then!

Lotus Update - Combustion Conundrum

Readers with long memories will be aware that Onega is the owner of a 1969 Lotus Europa Series 2 Car, which is currently up with Banks Service Station (Europa Services) under Richard Winter.

2015 will hopefully be the year that the car returns to the road. When it went up to Banks some years ago, it was in a fairly sorry state - being original and much loved over the years, but also in less than perfect condition. Okay, in quite a poor state all-round.

The original intention was to make the repairs needed to the bodywork, renew the sub frame and to replace the engine, which was strong but thirsty with a Fiat 1.2 Diesel Turbo engine from a donor vehicle. The reasoning behind this was that it would make the car reliable (not that the original Renault engine was any trouble) and economical as well as reducing performance to a level that should be still be fun but also reasonably non life threatening.

At the time of writing, which is January 2015, I've had a good catch up chat with Richard this week and we have a joint resolution to get the project through and completed. Things have changed over the time since Onega acquired the vehicle and classic car values are on the increase which means we have to revisit the originally intended path of the diesel conversion.

The diesel engine is a transverse unit (fits across the body), whereas the original engines in the cars were longitudinal (engine at 90 degrees with the body and in line with the central shaft of the sub frame). Thus to fit the diesel engine in, a number of modifications to the frame are needed and possibly the bodywork also. These would likely need to be quite substantial changes which would inevitably detract from the originality of the car.

We are less worried about originality and purity of the vehicle, but it does seem sensible to maintain a good degree of originality if it agrees with logic; although we're committed to features like modern brakes which have improved substantially over time.

For anyone that is not familiar with them, the Lotus Europa was an early mid engine sports car (the third mid engine car design in the world after the Lamborghini Miura and the Ford GT40). Our car, UNG 135G was one of the original white UK launch cars from when these were introduced into the UK in 1969 - the Series 1 having been export only.  

So now we have to make a choice on what engine to put in the car; this is a fairly key decision as it dictates the course of the rest of the work to be done.

The main choices are:

1. Keep the original Renault engine - This would be ideal for originality and it sounded good & ran well but averaged about 20 something mpg; which was the main reason for considering the diesel option as we want to make good use of the car.

2. Go for the diesel engine as originally envisioned, with the changes to bodywork etc. that might be needed. The chances are that this would cause us to need to also swap out items like the Smith's instruments on the dash and other original features we rather like that add to the ambience and spirit of the car.

3. Consider a Vauxhall 1600 engine - This would work with the original sub frame, give performance of approx. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and about 170Mph tops we gather, as well as 30 something MPG. The performance here is more than we need, but this could be restricted a little if needs be.

4. Think of something else - Electric, hybrid, hydrogen, a longitudinal diesel perhaps?

Choices, choices... but something important to consider.

Our criteria are:

  • Operational efficiency (MPG or equivalent)
  • Reliability - ideally this power plant will have a good long life in service.
  • Engineering compatibility with the car body (i.e. engine has to fit, made to turn the wheels and work).
  • Cost - we have to be able to afford the engine and the fitting in the first place.
  • Forthcoming changes to London ultra low emissions zone and congestion charging zone requirements and pricing.

Right now we are doing some quick research into the options. One benefit of the Europa is that it is of lightweight construction; Colin Chapman's mantra and design philosophy was to 'simplify and add lightness' and this benefits us being around 650Kg, which compares for example with the Telsa Model S at 2,108 Kg and power to weight ratios make for big performance differences (or correspondingly lower power requirements). The Tesla does have a lower drag coefficient than the Europa at 0.24 vs 0.3, but the Lotus is now 46 years old and much slippier than most modern cars still. Actually a single Tesla motor might be a nice solution if the good folks at Tesla have one to spare :-) .

We hope to have a decision as to direction within a couple of weeks in this matter and in the meantime are looking at the other elements of work needed, such as re-chroming where needed etc.

Watch this space - photos and updates will follow..