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The memory card slot, along with the 3.5mm audio jack and one of the USB ports, are easily accessible on the left of the machine. The other two USBs, the Ethernet port and power jack are tucked away at the back. I suspect the idea is that you keep more permanently attached peripherals plugged into the connectors at the back and use the side ones for the things more often unplugged but life would be easier if all the connectors were on the left side. There seems to be ample roomThe screen is the Slate 21’s strong-point. A 21.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD affair, it’s bright enough for indoor use. It’s sharp, colourful and good to look at from almost any viewing angle. The last fact is rather important because HP sees the Slate 21 as a device the family will huddle around. Narrow viewing angles would have put the kibosh on that.The touchscreen is an optical affair. Three cameras keep track of where and how you tap, stroke or fondle it. It works just as well as a capacitive display as per an iPad or Nexus 7, at least until you notice that it can only recognise two points of contact at any given time. That may limit some people’s usage but didn’t pose a problem for me.
Feature I need a new MacBook Pro… or do I? It’s probably a question that many a Mac user ponders and, given the choices these days, is much more difficult to answer. Having just reviewed the MacBook Pro 13in with Retina Display, I’m not sure I’m ready to commit myself to soldered RAM and the hope that upgrades will appear for its custom SSD form factor.For me, it seems like I’m going to have to eke out another year on my Unibody 17in MacBook Pro. At least that way I can hope the passing of time will lower the cost for a decent amount of RAM and a sizeable SSD. And who knows, I might be a Chromebook convert by then.Sadly, the optical drive failed in my MacBook behemoth a while ago, but rather than bemoan its passing, I saw it as an opportunity: let’s have two drives in the beastie – one SSD, one HDD. That’ll sort out the my-SSD-isn’t-big-enough problems and regular offloading of content to an external drive.
With that idea in mind, yet another idea presented itself: a Fusion drive. A hybrid of SSD and HDD tech that, through some clever housekeeping, keeps the regularly accessed files on the SSD and shifts the rest to the HDD. That way, the SSD delivers the performance and doesn’t get filled with detritus and voluminous content.Meanwhile the more capacious HDD does the heavy lifting, so various music, movie and photo libraries can linger on there along with lesser used apps and system files. The whole arrangement is seamless as you only see one drive on the desktop with the total capacity of the two drives showing as available.Apple offers Fusion drives on its iMac and Mac Mini computers, which to most appeared to be the end of the matter. However, last year Cocoa developer Patrick Stein – aka tech blogger JollyJinx outlined how a Fusion drive is created with a few nifty command line keystrokes - and, in the process, revealed that older Macs could be also be configured with one.
Now, that was all running under Mountain Lion, which had me wondering a few things. How easy would it be to rip out the optical drive and replace it with an HDD? Would it successfully marry up with with an SSD to become a Fusion drive and could I do a clean install of Mavericks in the process, all on my MacBook Pro 17in with its Intel 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo T9800 CPU and 8GB RAM?More to the point, if all went well, just how would the end result perform? This Mac is no spring chicken but with an SSD installed it doesn’t struggle at all with everyday tasks. It also has the full HD anti-glare screen and has done the business as a desktop replacement without serious complaint since I bought it new as a BTO option.One other thing is that it will also run Mac OS X 10.6, the last system to support PowerPC software courtesy of translation app, Rosetta. Apple says you can partition a Fusion drive and maybe I could get Snow Leopard on this configuration too and maintain a link with legacy apps. Maybe.
First things first though and I need Mavericks, aka Mac OS X 10.9. The good news is it’s free if you’re running Snow Leopard (10.6), Lion (10.7) or Mountain Lion (10.8). The bad news is that, being a download, you can’t simply boot your Mac from a DVD to do a clean install. One way around it is to create a bootable USB stick.There are various methods discussed on-line that involve a bit of terminal nerdiness but by far the simplest approach is to use DiskMakerX – a free app which can create a DVD, HDD or a USB installer drive. The way it does all this is to repurpose the Mavericks installer app. The catch being that if you run the Mavericks installer to upgrade your own system, it self-deletes afterwards.So you’ve got to plan this out properly and although I’ve seen it suggested that simply copying the installer elsewhere first to use later will suffice, I didn’t have any success with this approach. For some reason the end result wouldn’t boot. What did work was to download Mavericks, leave it in situ in the Applications folder and then let DiskMakerX work its magic.
I think part of the problem was that I was booting the Mac from an external USB enclosure that contained a full working Mac OS X installation on a 30GB SSD that I use for diagnostics. I’d downloaded Mavericks onto this drive but as it wasn’t the resident SATA drive, putting together a bootable USB installer from this set-up didn’t play nice.A more useful side effect of this set-up is that you can use the touchscreen with the blunt end of a wooden spoon should you be scrolling through a recipe while cooking with hands covered in flour.The only small visual criticism I can make of the display is that is rather reflective, something you notice if using it in a brightly lit room. The optical tracking system necessitates a gap of around 5mm between the screen and the plastic bezel, and this feels a bit odd when you make an edge-inward swipe, a gesture Android increasingly depends upon.
Below the screen sit a pair of DTS+ enhanced speakers which produce an impressive sound with plenty of volume and depth. Make no mistake, the combination of a fine screen and a good pair of speakers make the Slate 21 a very useful media centre whether you are accessing local media or streaming content from the likes of Netflix or BBC iPlayer.HP has fitted the Slate 21 with its own media centre app for playing music and video, and viewing picture files. It’s a decent app and, perhaps more importantly, one of the few extras that HP has added to Android 4.2.2, here presented in largely stock form.Yes, the Slate 21 also comes with a couple of third-party apps, including Evernote and Kingsoft Office, but these can easily be removed as you would any other downloaded app. If you want to access your Windows desktop, the Splashtop 2 app is also pre-loaded and there’s a handy 25GB of free Box storage for purchasers.
Above the screen sits a webcam capable of recording video at 720p, and a microphone for Skyping, Google Hangout-ing or however else you get your video call jollies. There is simple camera app if you are into making video selfies.Thanks to a quad-core 1.66GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 chipset with 1GB of RAM, the Slate 21 is a powerful machine. It returned an AnTuTu benchmark score of well over 30,000. That number does flatter to device just a little though because while the user interface runs with an acceptable level of fluidity - think Nexus 7 2012 rather than the new super-slick 2013 version - there is the occasional hesitation while it rebuilds desktop widgets when transferring back to the home screen.Thanks to those USB ports you can easily connect the Slate 21 to mice, keyboards and hard drives, and so press the Slate 21 for the jobs normally reserved for a Windows PC. I wrote this review on the Slate 21 using OfficeSuite Pro and the Microsoft trackball and Logitech keyboard usually connected to my laptop. They worked just fine.
Matters become a little less straightforward when it comes to printing. HP’s Printer Control app only seems to work with HP wireless printers, certainly it was no help when I tried to connect my Canon MP250 via USB, so I resorted to Google’s Cloud Print service.Just about now someone is going to say something about Android lacking tablet optimised apps. Big deal. The majority of apps I tried on the Slate 21 looked the same, and worked just as well, as they do on the likes of the Xperia Z Tablet or the Nexus 10.I say "majority" because the Flickr app shows up in the Play Store as unsuitable as did a few banking apps and, oddly, Google’s Keep app - though you can access Keep through the Drive app. The Android keyboard looks a trifle odd when pasted across a large screen, but SwiftKey offers all the options if you want either a smaller or split keyboard.Since I would have the back off the Mac soon, I whipped out the Mac’s old SSD and put the 30GB drive in its place and then went through the motions of using DiskMakerX. After not too long – you might want to make a cup of tea, though – I had a bootable installer on an 8GB USB stick.
A handy bootable external 30GB SSD used for diagnostics and can be temporarily installed inside the Mac for various other duties that rely on the internal SATA bus Just to be on the safe side, I tested out the freshly made installer on another 30GB SSD I have spare. That drive was temporarily attached to the SATA bus of the MacBook Pro. The computer was then booted from the USB stick and then the 30GB SSD wiped clean using the installer’s own disk utilities and then the OS installed onto the SSD.Time passed but soon enough I had a clean Mavericks install which would come in handy. After all, the MacBook Pro was soon to be kitted out with a 480GB Kingston Hyper X SSD and the 750GB Seagate Momentus HDD. I’d be booting with the 30GB Mavericks SSD from an external USB enclosure to set up the Kingston and Seagate storage as a Fusion drive.