Tag: Computers

PC CPUs: The Next Generation Is Here

Why it’s important: Back in the day, there were only two companies making CPUs. Now, there are twelve. Most of the new players focused on the big and profitable data center market. But now, some are also targeting PCs. Nvidia and AMD are getting ready to make Arm-based CPUs for PCs. Microsoft is allowing Arm laptop CPUs, which is not great news for Qualcomm right now and could be a problem for Intel in the distant future.

Even though Intel has had a tough time in the data center for the past five years, they’ve managed to keep a hold on the PC market. While PCs don’t bring in as much money as data center CPUs, they sell in large quantities and help keep Intel’s manufacturing plants busy and financially healthy.

Intel’s PC market share has been maintained for the most part because of two key factors: the Intel brand and something known as “channel control.” Most consumers aren’t concerned with or well-informed about semiconductor manufacturing methods or instruction set architectures. What they do recognize is the Intel brand, which has been built through extensive advertising efforts over several decades.

For most consumers, selecting a PC CPU can be a confusing task filled with complex technical specifications. This means that even if AMD’s latest CPU appears superior on paper compared to Intel’s, Intel can still maintain an edge. Furthermore, consumers don’t directly buy from Intel; they buy from popular PC brands like HP, Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and others. These companies have strong ties with Intel, partly because they receive significant marketing incentives from Intel, which contribute significantly to their PC profits. These PC brands are hesitant to distance themselves from Intel because they fear losing these subsidies.

The only recent entrant into the PC CPU market has been Qualcomm. Qualcomm has dedicated nearly a decade to establishing a presence with its Arm-based CPUs, which required extensive efforts, especially in adapting Windows to Arm architecture. This endeavor strained Qualcomm’s relationship with Microsoft. Nevertheless, Qualcomm now appears to offer a reasonably competitive CPU.

We’ve discussed Qualcomm’s efforts before, and the main point is that it’s unlikely Qualcomm will gain a significant share in the PC market anytime soon unless people suddenly value on-device AI support. While that doesn’t seem very likely, it’s worth noting that Qualcomm currently has one of the best AI cores (NPU) for laptops.

Qualcomm has received criticism for its long-standing PC investment. However, one advantage it had was its exclusive partnership with Microsoft. For years, Qualcomm was the sole company working with Microsoft to adapt Windows for Arm-based devices. This exclusivity has now changed with the recent Reuters report about Nvidia and AMD entering the Arm CPU market. Microsoft is now open to supporting CPUs from other vendors for Windows. Importantly, these new entrants have a stronger background in Windows than Qualcomm. Qualcomm has faced challenges in building a software ecosystem for Arm-Windows, and the new entrants will likely have an easier time due to Qualcomm’s previous work. Qualcomm may need to reevaluate its efforts in the PC market, which is already small and has become more competitive. This is not an ideal market for Qualcomm to excel in.

Nvidia and AMD’s Entry into the CPU Market: What Does It Mean?

Now, what should we think about Nvidia and AMD’s initiatives? AMD’s move is a bit puzzling. They already have a decent share in the PC laptop market, but it’s a distant second to Intel, despite Intel facing its fair share of challenges over the years. We suspect this might be AMD’s way of showing goodwill to their long-standing partner, Microsoft (something Qualcomm could learn from).

The real question is whether AMD will invest significant marketing resources to gain a share in this space, even if it means potentially eating into their existing market share. How will the average consumer react when faced with the choice between an AMD x86 laptop and an AMD Arm laptop? Confusion might be the likely outcome, and they might opt for the familiar Intel brand instead.

On the other hand, Nvidia has a more compelling case. They already have a strong consumer brand, mainly in gaming, which carries significant weight. They can also earn brownie points with Microsoft, a substantial customer and partner, and they don’t have a competing product to worry about. In fact, an Nvidia CPU/GPU combo laptop could create a new product category. Many gamers we know would probably rush to get one.

Apple’s Impact on the PC CPU Market: A Blind Spot for Semiconductors

Now, let’s delve into the real focus of this discussion: Apple. It’s quite surprising that semiconductor vendors often avoid mentioning Apple in conversations about PC CPUs. It’s a significant blind spot. We’ve even heard Intel executives claim that “we do not compete with Apple.”

Over time, Apple has been steadily eroding PC market share, particularly when it comes to profitability. On average, a Windows PC sells for at least $500 less than the lowest-priced Mac. Apple dominates the lion’s share of profitability in personal computing, just as it does in the mobile phone industry. While we haven’t recently crunched the numbers, we’re fairly certain that the transition to Apple’s M1 CPU has widened this gap even further. This issue is so substantial for other laptop manufacturers that it’s almost easier to ignore.

Microsoft is well aware of this problem, and while its success isn’t solely dependent on the PC market, it remains a significant and strategically important segment for them, both in terms of profit and overall strategy. They recognize the need to address the lack of PC profitability, and they appear to see the CPU as a crucial element of their strategy. There’s some logic to this, as M-powered MacBooks are known for their power efficiency compared to Windows laptops. However, we’ve encountered many players in the Windows supply chain who seem to idealize Arm CPUs, believing that having Arm CPUs would help them compete better with Apple. We think this perspective misses the mark. Apple’s success lies in its ability to integrate its software with its silicon tightly, and the Arm component is not the sole differentiator.

Nevertheless, the new Windows CPUs could inject some vitality into the market. Arm-based chips thrived in mobile largely due to the intense competition among semiconductor vendors. Arm consistently emphasizes its mobile ecosystem, which, in part, resulted from numerous companies competing in the space. This competitive environment drove faster innovation and progress.

Potential for a New Era of Innovation in Windows Laptops

This scenario could potentially materialize in the laptop market, especially if Nvidia and AMD are just the initial players. A thriving ecosystem of Arm-based Windows CPUs has the potential to ignite a fresh wave of innovation in Windows laptops, leading to more specialized offerings. Nvidia might focus on the high-end segment with premium gaming laptops, while AMD and Qualcomm can carve out their unique niches. Some players may opt for a budget-friendly approach, posing a competitive challenge to Google Chromebooks.

It’s too early to determine if this scenario will become a reality, but the possibility now exists. Currently, we believe Intel is relatively shielded from immediate threats, particularly as it introduces enhanced products with improved manufacturing. However, looking further ahead, if robust competition emerges from Arm CPU manufacturers, Intel could indeed face significant challenges.

About the Author: simonc

Don’t Just Throw Away Your Old Gadgets! Here’s What to Do With Them

If you’ve recently upgraded to a new phone, laptop, tablet, or something similar, you probably want to put your old device to good use. Instead of simply disposing of it in the trash, consider giving it to a friend or family member, donating it, or recycling it. However, there are some important steps you should take before parting with it.

Your top priority is safeguarding your privacy. You need to ensure that all of your personal data is completely removed from the device before it’s passed on to another user. There are standard methods for accomplishing this, such as performing a full reset and more advanced steps if you have concerns about someone with potentially malicious intentions seeking out used devices.

Older devices, especially their batteries, may raise safety concerns, but recycling services typically handle this aspect. Assuming your gadget is in working condition, once you’ve safeguarded your data and removed any additional components, it’s ready to find a new home.

Backup and Delete Your Data

No matter what type of device you’re passing on – be it a phone, tablet, laptop, game console, or most modern electronics – it’s crucial to ensure that your personal data is removed first. This isn’t just about privacy; it’s also a security concern. Even seemingly innocuous information like your name and phone number can be exploited by identity thieves to launch targeted attacks.

Thankfully, nearly all these devices offer a reset option, which wipes out all your personal data, along with stored files and applications. It might take a few minutes, but it’s a dependable and straightforward process.

Start by backing up any essential data. For phones or tablets, this is straightforward, as most data is already synchronized with your Apple, Google, or Amazon account. Ensure that photos, videos, music, and text messages are backed up. Computers can be more intricate, as you might need to transfer a significant amount, or even all, of the data from the storage drive.

If you’re looking for a more secure method to erase files and personal information permanently, you should overwrite the storage on your device. This ensures that the data cannot be recovered using various advanced tools. Several methods can achieve this, but the primary platforms to focus on are Windows and macOS.

Harvest (Or Destroy) Parts

Before parting with your device, remove detachable components, such as SIM cards, MicroSD cards (for phones), CDs, DVDs, camera cards, and USB peripherals (for laptops and desktops). When dealing with game consoles, check for game discs, cartridges, and storage cards.

For computers, consider the more secure option of extracting the storage drive, though be aware this will render the device non-functional if you plan to sell or donate it. This action significantly reduces the risk of data recovery.

While taking out the storage drive from a desktop is generally straightforward, it may be more challenging for compact models like the Mac Mini or iMac. Extracting the industry from a laptop can be intricate, especially in newer ultra-thin models with soldered storage. Online research can help determine your capability for this task.

In some instances, you might be able to salvage other removable components, such as graphics cards from gaming desktops. However, if you’re getting ready to sell or recycle a computer, there might not be much worth salvaging for a new system. If you pass the computer to another user through donation or as a gift, ensure it remains functional. For those interested in specific parts or capable of repairs, you can consider parting with those components.

Cleaning Up

When passing on your device to a new user or donating it, it’s considerate to ensure it’s in optimal condition. You’ve addressed the software aspect, now let’s focus on the hardware.

A bit of dusting and potentially cleaning out any accumulated dirt in crevices with isopropyl alcohol can be beneficial. If your device is exceptionally dirty or sticky, using a toothbrush (being cautious not to introduce moisture into sensitive ports) might be necessary. Keyboards and mice, due to frequent handling, may require a more thorough cleaning and disinfection process.

Where to Donate and Recycle

Ready to declutter and part with some belongings? There are various avenues for donating items, and several electronics stores, such as Best Buy, offer free electronics recycling services. Additionally, your local municipal waste or recycling service might provide free electronics recycling and contribute the e-waste to industrial recycling companies.

If your gadget is in working order, consider donating it to organizations that distribute electronics to individuals in need. There are numerous such organizations, often found in your vicinity: schools, religious institutions, homeless and welfare programs, senior centers, and retirement homes, to name a few. Tablets and laptops are frequently in demand.

If you’re unsure whether a particular place accepts your item, a simple phone call can clarify. In case they can’t use it, they’ll likely guide you to an appropriate alternative. If all else fails, organizations like the Red Cross, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army often accept functional items produced within the last decade.

For those inclined to donate to non-religious organizations, options may be more limited. A search for charities seeking donations in your nearest major city can yield potential choices. Urgent donation needs are often advertised in local newspapers or shared on social platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor.

Remember that you can always ask your friends or family if they have any use for the items you’re looking to part with. Even if they don’t, they might know someone who does.

About the Author: simonc

8 Creative Ways to Use Your Old PC, Even If It Can’t Run Windows 11

Starting in October 2025, standard versions of Windows 10 won’t receive security updates. But if your computer doesn’t meet Windows 11’s stringent hardware requirements, you don’t have to discard it just yet! There are numerous excellent ways to repurpose your computer.

Install Linux Instead

Linux offers numerous distributions (distros) that can effectively replace Windows for the majority of users. These distros support all the essential productivity software, and for many tasks, a web browser is all you need.

Even if you’re a gamer, there’s no need to make a complete transition, as gaming on Linux is continually improving. Moreover, there are user-friendly Linux distros available, and in many cases, you can try them out without removing Windows.

Use It as a NAS

While cloud storage is convenient, it’s dependent on a working internet connection, constrained by your internet speed, and raises privacy issues. So, why not repurpose your old computer into a NAS (Network Attached Storage) server?

Simply install a few affordable hard drives, set up your preferred NAS operating system and software, and enable users to save and retrieve data over your high-speed local network.

Make a Streaming Server

This idea is closely related to transforming your computer into a NAS. Still, it includes the extra feature of streaming video content from your personal video collection to anyone within your network (or even outside it, depending on how you configure it).

You can opt for a commercial solution like creating a Plex server, or you can convert your computer into a DLNA media server.

Host Your Own E-book Library

If you have a library of e-books, comic books, or any other documents, you can utilize software like Calibre to manage and deliver them to your devices, such as tablets or e-readers.

Make a Dedicated Gaming Server

If you have a favorite multiplayer game that’s facing a shortage of servers, consider repurposing your old computer to host a dedicated server for that game. The compatibility of running a dedicated server on a non-Windows operating system will vary depending on the game. However, this can be an excellent solution to establish a fast and private game server for you and your friends.

Create Your Own Web Server

While creating and hosting a website typically involves paying for server space from a hosting service, you have the option to transform your computer into a web host, granting you full control over your website. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that not all home internet connections allow you to host a web server, as some ISPs explicitly prohibit it.

If your ISP permits web hosting on your home connection, it can be an interesting method to manage a small online forum or blog. This approach is ideal for those looking to start a site as a hobby and gain a deep understanding of the intricacies involved in the process.

Make a Hackintosh

Some believe that the era of Hackintosh computers is drawing to a close, but there are those who contend that Hackintoshes still offer value. Suppose your old computer possesses a motherboard, CPU, and GPU that are compatible with Hackintosh setups. In that case, it can be a fantastic way to prolong its usability, provided it can run a macOS version that continues to receive security updates.

Build an Arcade Cabinet

You might have come across projects in which individuals use small, affordable computers like a Raspberry Pi to create their own arcade emulation cabinets, which is just one of the many fantastic Raspberry Pi projects. Given that your Windows 10 computer is likely much more powerful than a Raspberry Pi, it can serve as the core of an arcade cabinet. As you already possess the PC component, it should be a more cost-effective solution than purchasing a pre-assembled system. You can readily purchase arcade cabinet kits from websites such as Amazon.

About the Author: simonc

How to Turn Off Your Keyboard in Windows With a Keyboard Shortcut

If you have a pet or a small child, you’re probably familiar with the chaos that can ensue when they get their hands on an unattended keyboard, resulting in a string of random characters. Fortunately, we have a handy tool that allows you to lock and unlock your keyboard using a simple keyboard shortcut.

Keyboard Locker is a lightweight program that performs this task efficiently while using minimal system resources. It originally started as a small AutoHotKey script created by a forum member known as Lexikos. We’ve enhanced and compiled it, eliminating the need for AutoHotKey installation. However, if you do have AutoHotKey installed, we’ve included the original script in the download, allowing you to customize it to your preferences.

To begin, download Keyboard Locker and unzip the folder to your preferred location on your hard drive. Inside the Keyboard Locker folder, you’ll find various files, including icons and a readme. The two key files you’ll need are “KeyboardLocker.exe” and “KeyboardLocker.ahk.”

If you haven’t installed AutoHotKey, simply double-click the “KeyboardLocker.exe” file to run it. This file is an AutoHotKey script that has been compiled to function as a standalone program, eliminating the need for AutoHotKey installation.

For those who are already familiar with AutoHotKey, you can opt to use the “KeyboardLocker.ahk” file to run the script directly. The advantage of using the script version is that it allows you to customize the keyboard shortcuts for locking and unlocking as per your preferences.

Once you’ve launched Keyboard Locker, a small keyboard icon will appear in your notification area, indicating that the tool is ready for use.

To lock your keyboard, simply press the Ctrl+Alt+L keys simultaneously. You’ll notice a change in the Keyboard Locker icon, indicating that the keyboard is now locked.

Most keyboard inputs are disabled when locked, including function keys, Caps Lock, Num Lock, and various special keys found on media keyboards. Some key combinations like Ctrl+Alt+Delete and Win+L can still function, but they are highly unlikely to be triggered accidentally by a pet or a child.

To re-enable keyboard input, you can easily type the word “unlock.” As you do this, the Keyboard icon will revert to its normal appearance, indicating that the keyboard is now unlocked.

How to Show Balloon Notification Reminders

By default, Keyboard Locker does not show notifications when you lock or unlock your keyboard. If you wish to enable notifications, simply right-click the Keyboard Locker icon in the notification area and then select “Show Tray Notifications.”

Keyboard Locker will now show notifications when you lock or unlock your keyboard.

If you’d rather not receive notifications, you can also view the shortcuts for locking and unlocking your keyboard by hovering your mouse over the Keyboard Locker icon.

How to Start Keyboard Locker when Windows Starts

Running Keyboard Locker when you need it is straightforward, but you can also set it to launch automatically when Windows starts by placing it in the Windows startup folder. For detailed instructions, you can check out our guide on adding programs, files, and folders to system startup in Windows.

In brief, you can place your AutoHotKey folder in any location you prefer. To open the Run dialog, press Windows+R, then type “shell: startup” in the “Open” box, and click “OK.”

To ensure the Keyboard Locker runs automatically when Windows starts, create a shortcut to the “KeyboardLocker.exe” or “KeyboardLocker.ahk” file (whichever you use) in the Windows startup folder. You can do this by right-clicking the file and dragging it to the startup folder, then selecting “Create shortcut here” with your right mouse button. Alternatively, you can right-click within the startup folder, go to “New,” and choose “Shortcut” from the context menu. Once the shortcut is in the startup folder, the Keyboard Locker will launch automatically when you start Windows.

If you enjoy some company while working on your computer, having a child or pet around can be delightful. However, it can become quite disruptive if they start mashing the keyboard. Keyboard Locker is a handy tool for those with curious pets and inquisitive infants.

About the Author: simonc