Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CeBIT exhibition: Optimus Minimus, Asustek AquaTank

Spring put on its best face this year for the start of the annual CeBIT exhibition. Too bad it didn't last.

By the third day, sunny skies and warm weather gave way to the cold wind and light rain that's a hallmark of CeBIT and more typical of March in northern Germany. Despite the change in weather, hordes of visitors -- some hoping to catch a glimpse of the new Optimus Maximus keyboard -- descended on the show over the weekend to see what gadget makers have in store for them this year.

Here's a look at what Cebit had to offer this year:

Optimus Minimus

Russian designer Art Lebedev is the creative mastermind behind the Optimus Maximus, a keyboard with small OLED screens on each key. The idea is that users can change the key displays to suit different languages or applications, switching the keyboard layout from Cyrillic to English, for example. Cool idea, but difficult to manufacture.

Lebedev had promised to show the Optimus Maximus at Cebit but turned up empty handed instead. Well, not completely empty handed. He came to break the news that the keyboard will cost $1,500 when it finally hits the market in November.

"Anyone can do a keyboard that costs 10 dollars, just simple plastic keys. But when you put displays inside the keys you face a lot of problems. There are hundreds of problems waiting for you at every corner," Lebedev said.

Game on

Asustek Computer is now shipping a water-cooled graphics card that lowers a PC's internal temperature while improving graphics performance.

The AquaTank EN8800GTX graphics board is based on a Nvidia GeForce 8800GTX graphics chip and packs 768MB of high-speed DDR3 memory. Asustek said the water-cooling system helps to keep the graphics chip running 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than other 8800GTX boards. That translates into a performance gain of around 11 percent, it said.

The AquaTank cards are currently in production and will soon be available. No word on pricing, however.

Thinking outside the photo frame

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. plans to ship a 7-inch digital photo frame with built-in Wi-Fi that can display images from an Internet RSS feed. Of course, the frames also work with four kinds of memory cards and pack a USB host, which means you can plug in a flash drive or portable hard disk.

The photo frame is meant to be paired with a PC running Microsoft's Vista operating system, using Wi-Fi to display photos stored using Windows Media Player 11. A Samsung executive said the €229 ($305) SPH-72P frame will hit European markets in May. If that price seems steep, don't worry. The company plans a (somewhat) cheaper version, priced at €179 that doesn't have Wi-Fi.

Expect to see more digital photo frames from Samsung soon. The company also showed off larger versions, measuring 8 inches and 12 inches across the diagonal. These larger displays will come out later this year, the executive said.

Let them have USB

Samsung also showed off a 19-inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD monitor, the SyncMaster 940UX that connects to a PC over a USB connection, eliminating the need for a graphics card. The company says USB makes it easier for users to have multiple displays, saying one computer can support up to six monitors.

Samsung is betting that the USB monitor will appeal to notebook users who find themselves frustrated with having to use a small display at their desks. The SyncMaster 940UX offers a resolution of 1,280 pixels by 1,024 pixels and a built-in USB hub. Pricing and availability was not available.

Stream this

Mitac International will soon begin production of a UWB hub that can be used to stream high-definition video from a portable hard disk to a notebook computer.

With speeds that run into the hundreds of megabits per seconds, UWB is far better suited to streaming video than Wi-Fi, which is too slow to keep up with the high bitrates that high-definition video requires.

Mitac showed off the UH-4100 UWB hub capabilities at its booth, streaming a high-definition movie on a portable hard disk that was connected to the hub via a USB port. The video streamed without interruption to a notebook computer equipped with a MUD-4100 USB dongle to receive the UWB signal.

Mitac said the hub goes into production and will hit store shelves by the middle of the year.

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