Driving forward: The line that divided solid-state drives (SSDs) from hard disks has always been that the former have speed and toughness, while the traditional disks boast much greater capacity. This distinction is beginning to disappear, and PhotoFast erases more of the barrier with its G-Monster eSATA. This is an SSD that connects via a standard USB and eSATA, or external SATA connection. SATA plugs are the ones inside your computer for connecting such necessities as a hard disk and optical drive to your motherboard. The idea of eSATA is to provide a plug on the outside of your computer to which you can connect external storage devices. In effect, it serves the same function as a USB or FireWire connection but offers faster data-transfer speeds.

The idea of taking what is basically a USB memory key and adding an eSATA plug to it is not new — companies such as Seagate and Lacie have already released such devices — but PhotoFast has grabbed attention through the G-Monster read speed. The device can read 175 MB per second and writes data at 100 MB per second. A typical USB flash drive will max out at around 30 MB per second. The G-Monster comes in 32-gigabyte, 64-gigabyte and 128-gigabyte offerings. The device measures 80×40×15 mm and weighs 25 grams. Unlike most USB keys on offer these days, however, the G-Monster is a rudimentary-looking creation in basic black with the eSATA plug hidden under a cap at one end. Beyond capacity, PhotoFast doesn’t skimp on substance, however, with a claim that the G-Monster will last for an average 1.5 million hours.

The device comes with a 1-year warranty and is due to hit the market before the end of April, with its price yet to be announced. Whether the G-Monster finds a place in your pocket really depends on whether your computer has an eSATA connection. If it doesn’t, this device is not for you. www.flashmemory-japan.com/photofast

A touch of light and cheap: Perhaps in response to low-price netbooks, there seems to be growth in the market for all-in-one desktop computers that make up for their lack of computing grunt with light price tags and low power consumption. Asus has taken the lead in this sector, as it did with netbooks, but Shuttle is upping the competition with its new X50 desktop computer. The smart-looking PC comes across as a netbook in disguise. It has a 1.6-gigahertz Intel Atom 330 CPU, a flimsy 1 gigabyte of RAM, just 80 gigabytes of memory and a laptoplike 15.6-inch, 1366×768-pixel screen. The X50 also comes with a touch-sensitive screen.

The Shuttle device has its own user interface for getting hands-on with the screen, or by using the included stylus, but it is limited to such functions as using instant messaging and looking at photos. The bulk of its work is done with Windows XP Professional, and the user can switch between the two interfaces quite easily. The limited nature of the touch interface, as with similar touch-screen machines, is due mainly to the Windows operating systems not coming to grips with the new technology yet.

Apart from the physical and performance similarities to a netbook, the X50 is also priced like one, at ¥49,800 when it is released in May. The X50 will be available direct from Shuttle. A slightly beefed-up version, the X5000, with a 160-gigabyte hard disk and Windows Vista as the operating system, will hit the shops April 23 for ¥59,800.

Beyond the touch screen, the X50 and its sibling come with standard features, including all three popular types of wireless — b, g and n — a four-in-one memory card reader and a 1.3-megapixel built-in webcam. It also has a generous supply of five USB ports. The device comes complete with a carry handle that cleverly does double duty as a stand. As it weighs 3.6 kg, again in laptop territory, the X50 is eminently easy to carry around. It is a smartly styled machine, measuring a slim 390×36×327 mm. If you can live with the limitations of a small and somewhat underpowered machine, the X50 and X5000 are stylish devices that would do nicely as second computers. The caveat is that this is a young, growing market and more choices are certain to be in the pipeline. www.shuttle-japan.jp/Product/X50/x50.html

LED balloons: The great anomaly in the stampede for flat-screen LCD televisions is that their picture is not as good as you get with the CRT TV sets they are replacing. Why having a thinner, lighter set with somewhat garish color reproduction is more important than a good picture is a question likely to remain unanswered. Since technology rarely turns backward, the answer from TV makers is to improve LCD-screen picture quality.

One method that is becoming increasingly popular is to use LED backlights (traditional LCD screens use fluorescent backlights). The advantages are that they produce brighter, better colors that are more like those of the old CRTs, can use less power and make for even slimmer and lighter sets.

Toshiba is embracing the trend with its new Regza-branded ZX8000 model. The new set is one of a group of Regza Z models Toshiba announced recently, each with differing features such as built-in hard disks for recording TV. The ZX8000 lacks a hard disk but does sport a choice of either a 46-inch or 55-inch LED backlit screen with full HD 1920×1080 resolution.

The ZX8000 models are aimed at the top end of the market, boasting sleek black looks and high prices. The 55-inch 55ZX8000 is expected to cost around ¥600,000 when it hits the market in early July, with the 46ZX8000 offering a more modest price of ¥500,000 for a 46-inch package out late June. The machines have a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio; the latest edition of Toshiba’s Super Resolution+ technology, for boosting picture resolution; the company’s ClearScan 240Hz motion, for making fast-moving images look sharp; and fifth-generation Pixel Pure image processing. The sets also have AutoView calibration for adjusting the screen to fit room lighting conditions. This ability to fine tune the picture is one of the selling points of LED backlighting over conventional LCD, as you can tweak the image far more.

Toshiba offers cheaper options with its ZH8000 and Z8000 models, which will hit the shelves later this month in similar sizes to the ZX8000 or with smaller screens. www.toshiba.co.jp


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