Photoshop Elements is a stripped-down version of its professional software, though it features plenty of advanced capabilities for that set). Its guided editing can help rookies perfect their visuals, while intelligent editing can help streamline common edits with the help of AI. With a whole lineup of effects and features, from the most basic filters all the way up to detailed professional functions, Photoshop is a pretty awesome (and well-loved) tool.
Premiere Elements also brings a whole lineup of useful features to the table, this time for video editing. The 2019 version’s strength is in its AI-aided automation, which helps make the editing process a whole lot easier, with the help of a Quick Edit mode that provides two user-friendly buttons for making simple edits. Like its photo-editing cousin, this tool is great whether you’re a pro or a beginner, with a wide set of capabilities to cater to individual editing needs.
In Macworld’s review of Photoshop Elements 2019, we praised Adobe’s Sensei AI engine and its ability to “simplify and auto generate appealing photographic special effects and social media friendly collages, slideshows and memes.” And we loved Premier Elements 2019 too, giving it high marks for its sharing and editing ease.
Intel’s Optane Memory H10 SSD is one of those enigmas of PC hardware that can drive reviewers crazy. It is—simply put—a storage technology that is more responsive in some cases, but slower in others.
It’s also a technology you can’t choose for yourself. Currently, Optane Memory H10 is being sold only to PC OEMs, who will integrate it into space-limited laptops and eventually full-on gaming laptops.
Because it’s Intel technology, it’s not going work with platforms it’s not approved for (read AMD). As you start seeing it in new laptops, this review will help you decide whether it’s a feature worth seeking out.
What is Intel’s Optane Memory H10?
Intel officially names this device “Optane memory H10 with solid state storage.” It’s much easier to think of it as a hybrid drive, or two drives in one. On one half of the M.2 stick, Intel has shoved 32GB of Optane memory. The rest of the M.2 is used to house a 512GB QLC-based NAND.
Both are independent drives, each with dedicated x2 PCIe Gen 3 bandwidth. In fact, if you disable Optane in the Intel Rapid Storage Technology driver, both drives will appear as independent drives in Windows 10’s device manager. Used as expected, though, the drives will appear as a single drive.
Why Optane Memory H10?
The idea behind Optane Memory H10 is to use Optane Memory technology to accelerate performance of a slower drive by storing frequently-used files on the Optane memory. The concept is already in place for traditional hard drives, but it’s new for an SSD.
What’s not clear is whether it makes sense. When we first reviewed Optane Memory two years ago, we found it to be pretty impressive for accelerating dog-slow hard drives. It also seemed pretty promising against dog-slow TLC (triple level cell)-based SSDs.
A lot has changed with SSDs, though. TLC drives have gotten a lot faster. The other big change is that denser QLC (quad-level cell) drives have stormed the PC. QLC packs more data into each chip, which generally means a sacrifice in performance. With the Optane Memory H10, Intel is hoping to boost the performance of QLC-NAND SSDs.
How we tested
Typical storage tests rely on synthetic benchmarks to measure a drive’s ability at various tasks. Optane’s unique properties make it harder to gauge, however. When originally released, 3D XPoint memory, created by Micron and Intel, promised “1,000X” the switching performance of the fastest NAND drives. With 3D XPoint in Optane, the promise has been low-latency performance that improves responsiveness but may not necessarily, say, blow away sequential writes or reads (file copying) or other tasks.
For example, synthetic tests such as Crystal Disk Mark will show Optane with much higher small file read performance than a comparable drive, but in other metrics such as sequential, high-queue depth reads, it can be slower.
Crystal Disk Mark 6.0.2 on our Optane Memory H10 drive, for example, yielded 125MBps 4K random read performance, compared to a TLC-based Intel 760P drive, which logged 65MBps for 4K random read performance.
That same Intel 760P will read at 2.7GBps, vs 2.4GBps for the Optane Memory H10 drive. Write performance is also better on the TLC drive. If you pay attention to the synthetic tests, the Optane Memory H10 drive seems underwhelming.
Intel has pushed a message of real-world advantage rather than synthetic tests, however, so we decided to go along. We used a pair of -matching HP Spectre x360 13 laptops. Both featured Intel “Whiskey Lake” Core i7-8565U CPUs and 16GB of dual-channel RAM. Both laptops featured identical UEFI versions and identical versions of Windows 10.
The only difference was the drive. One laptop featured the Optane Memory H10 SSD with 32GB of Optane and 512GB of QLC NAND. The other featured Intel’s SSD 7-series 760P, which is built on 512GB of TLC NAND. It’s an acceptable NVME-based SSD, better than, well, SATA SSDs. The 512GB drive retails for about $118 on Amazon currently. Its score was about the same as Intel’s QLC-based 660P drive. Because the Optane Memory H10’s NAND side is essentially a somewhat slower 660P, it’s probably a fair comparison.
As we said earlier, synthetic benchmarks put the Optane H10’s 660P half in “adequate” range, with the Intel 760P SSD outpacing it in most tests. To see what Optane Memory acceleration tied to the 660P we skipped straight to the real-world tests.
We installed the latest version of Google Chrome, Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat Reader on both laptops. We compared how long it took to launch the apps and open documents on both laptops.
Because this kind of organic testing can be really, really unreliable and difficult to measure as well as difficult to repeat, we decided record the laptops in action with both being controlled by the same mouse and keyboard. To do this, we used a Huintech Sync-Monster KMS-200. It’s essentially a reverse KVM that lets you mouse and keyboard around on multiple devices.
Intel said the Optane Memory H10 shines under heavy real-world loads, so we tried to simulate tasks such as copying a video file on each laptop while opening various documents in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Acrobat. We also launched Google Chrome. While this may not be something you do every day, it’s realistic that you might do this occasionally. You can’t ignore the results: We actually saw pretty much a 3X performance advantage in responsiveness during that task.
We decided to push it a little harder by copying the same video file while also decompressing a file using 7-Zip and then opening a Microsoft Word 365 document. Again, it’s a pretty harsh task, though realistic. While the Optane Memory H10 got us into our Word document in about 5 seconds, the TLC-based 760P took 29 seconds to open the file. In fact, we waited so long that near the end of the run, we went ahead and also launched Google Chrome with it preset to open four websites.
Because storage tests can often be dismissed without visual evidence, we also recorded it so you can see the side-by-side results yourself.
When and why it’s slower sometimes
It’s important to point out that in a lot of use cases the Optane Memory H10 was basically as fast as, or a hair slower, than the TLC 760P. For light-duty tasks, there wasn’t much of a difference at all.
The real brain-bender, though, is that even though we saw significant advantage when opening documents during background copies or decompressing files, the Optane Memory H10 was actually slower in processing the background copying or decompression. A few beats behind is one thing, but certain tasks, such as using Windows’ built-in decompression utility, were significantly slower at times.
That’s the real conundrum of Optane Memory H10: It definitely keeps you productive with what you’re doing right now, but at the expense of background-task performance. The question is one of priorities: opening a foreground app and doing other work without missing a beat, or waiting for those background tasks?
Intel’s guidance is that these situations can occur depending on the tasks. The Optane Memory H10 is still just two seperate x2 PCIe NVMe drives, while most NVMe SSDs will operate in x4. There can be times when the greater bandwidth of the x4 interface is an advantage.
We also noticed a very small CPU hit. The Optane Memory H10 typically worked the CPU a little harder, or took a few seconds longer for the drive activity to clear. It’s not enough to care much, but there is a cost to having the CPU play traffic cop for a hybrid SSD.
Because you can’t actually buy Optane Memory H10 on its own today, we’re not rendering a verdict on the product. However, we can recommend whether you should seek this out in your next laptop.
It very much depends on the kinds of things that tick you off when computing. If, for example, you like to copy gigabytes of data to your laptop from a very fast external drive (think Thunderbolt 3 SSD), or make local copies of your files in your workflow and can’t start your work until it’s copied over, Optane Memory H10 might tick you off a little. That’s probably especially so if you tend to decompress files and wait for them to finish before moving on.
However, if your work flow is copying file and decompressing files while launching multiple apps until the system just stops responding—Optane Memory H10 is going to be a nice step up. Overall, it’s probably better for most people.
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Update 1:10 pm ET: Samsung has issued a statement confirming the delay of the Galaxy Fold launch.
I guess it’s true what Kenny Rogers said: You gotta know when to fold ‘em. After announcing over the weekend that it was delaying Galaxy Fold launch events in Hong Kong and Shanghai this week, the electronics giant has now also reportedly pushed back the U.S. release date of its next-generation handset following a flurry of poor reviews and problems with the device, according to a statement from the company.
The Wall Street Journal initially reported that the Fold would be delayed “at least until next month,” but Samsung’s statement is even less concrete: “While many reviewers shared with us the vast potential they see, some also showed us how the device needs further improvements that could ensure the best possible user experience. To fully evaluate this feedback and run further internal tests, we have decided to delay the release of the Galaxy Fold. We plan to announce the release date in the coming weeks.”
The Fold was originally slated to start shipping this Friday, April 26. The $1,980 handset is Samsung’s first to feature a flexible OLED screen, and it was lauded as the future of mobile devices, with the ability to shrink a 7.3-inch tablet down to a pocketable phone.
However, what was supposed to be a celebratory launch of the world’s first mass-produced folding phone has turned into something of a disaster for Samsung. Many of the early review units sent out have exhibited issues that rendered the device compromised or inoperable after just a day or two of use.
For example, Dieter Bohn from the Verge experienced a “small bulge” in the center of the screen after what he suspects was a “piece of debris” that got into the hinge. Steve Kovach of CNBC experienced a flashing and flickering screen that completely overtook his device. Mark Gurnam of Bloomberg, YouTuber Marques Brownlee, and Wall Street Journal reporter Joanna Stern all experienced issues after inadvertently peeling off the protective layer that Samsung now says shouldn’t be removed.
Samsung says it will “take measures to strengthen the display protection. We will also enhance the guidance on care and use of the display including the protective layer so that our customers get the most out of their Galaxy Fold.”
Pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold went live last week and quickly sold out, though it’s not clear how many devices were available for purchase. Also unknown is how many of those orders were canceled after problems began to arise.
Why this matters: The upcoming folding phone revolution may be over before it even begins. Along with 5G, 2019 was supposed to be the year of the folding phone, with Samsung, Huawei, and others all developing handsets that can open to a tablet. Beyond the technical issues, many reviewers criticized the Fold for its crease, ergonomics, and software, especially when using apps in full-screen mode. While folding screens will almost certainly be a reality one day, the Galaxy Fold saga has proven that manufacturers still need to work out some kinks.
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Wester Digital uses a color coded system for its hard drives with Black being the top performer for PCs. Blue, meanwhile, is its all-around dependable drive. You won’t get amazing responsiveness out of it for gaming and other users compared to higher priced drives, but for storage of files and documents and budget gaming it’s a great choice. WD built a few interesting features into this driving including IntelliSeek, which is supposed to come up with the best seek speeds to keep power consumption, noise, and vibration low. Then there’s Data LifeGuard, which tries to keep your drive as healthy as possible, and you get a two-year warranty.
Bowers & Wilkins has been relatively quiet since its acquisition by EVA Automation in May 2016, bringing just a few new products to market since then. That changes in a very big way today with B&W’s announcement of the Formation Wireless Music System, a robust multi-room audio system that targets Sonos where that company is most vulnerable: High-resolution audio (but certainly not on price).
B&W invited us to the company’s UK facilities last week for Formation’s press unveiling, where we had the opportunity to hear the first five components in the Formation suite: the Formation Duo, a pair of self-powered bookshelf speakers; the Formation Wedge, a single powered speaker that replaces the 2015 Zeppelin Air; the Formation Bar and Formation Bass, a soundbar and subwoofer respectively; and the Formation Audio, a wireless hub that enables you to add legacy audio components to a Formation system. B&W CEO Greg Lee hinted that we’ll see more products in this line soon.
Each Formation product boasts a contemporary industrial design that B&W says it hopes will attract a younger audience. And while Formation products will be manufactured mostly in China, the company says some of the parts for the Formation Wedge will be fabricated at the same factory in Worthing, Sussex that assembles B&W’s top-shelf loudspeakers.
As Sonos did before it, B&W has developed a proprietary mesh networking technology dubbed, not surprisingly, Formation. And like Sonos, B&W is also embracing several other “lesser” wireless technologies (lesser in the sense that Formation supports higher digital audio resolutions and sampling rates: up to 24-bit resolution and sampling rates as high as 96kHz).
Formation components—with the exception of the Formation Bass subwoofer, which is designed to be paired with other Formation speakers—will also support Apple’s AirPlay 2 technology (16-bit/44.1kHz streams) and Bluetooth (including support for the aptX HD codec, which can handle up to 24-bit/48kHz streams). Sonos supports up to 16-bit/48kHz streams (stated here only for the sake of comparison—Formation won’t be compatible with Sonos). If you have the infrastructure to take advantage of it, each Foundation component also has an RJ45 port for hardwired ethernet.
The Formation suite is also compatible with Spotify Connect, and the components can operate as endpoints for a Roon server. You can control the system using B&W’s Android and iOS app, which the company says will make for an intuitive and friendly user experience, or with iTunes (for AirPlay 2) on a Mac or PC.
First impressions of B&W’s Formation Suite
We took full advantage of an opportunity to listen to each of the Foundation components in a domestic setting and came away with highly positive impressions of the designs, build quality, and audio performance.
Formation Bar and Formation Bass
First up was the Formation Bar, auditioned with a clip from a Hollywood action blockbuster. The 48.8-inch soundbar produced clear and refined higher frequencies from its three 1.0-inch double dome tweeters, but the bass response from its six 2.6-inch woven glass fiber bass/midrange drivers was just adequate (the Formation Bar’s frequency response is rated at 40Hz to 28kHz). The Formation Bar has six 40-watt amplifiers onboard, although B&W did not disclose if these are Class D or something else.
Adding the Formation Bass to the mix provided a lot more punch for a much more immersive experience. The barrel-shaped subwoofer has a 250-watt digital amplifier driving dual 6.5-inch, long-throw bass units and delivers frequency response of 20- to 156Hz. The combo—which it should be noted supports Dolby Digital but not Dolby Atmos—still didn’t give us the wow factor we were expecting. The sound stage was just not as wide as we would have liked. This could be due to the very large space the system was set up in, or just the overly busy soundtrack.
Switching over to an electronic music video however, the Bar came into its own, with a wide sound stage and with better placement of instruments in the space. Most importantly, even with a bass-heavy track, the low end felt tight and clear without any noticeable distortion.
We tried out the Formation Wedge next. This is an elliptically shaped speaker with a stylishly contoured grill that’s set to replace B&W’s much-loved Zeppelin Air. This $900 speaker boasts a minimalist design, with the only onboard controls being a small touch panel with a proximity sensor that lights up when you approach. You can play and pause music here and adjust the volume, but you’ll need to open the B&W app to do more than that.
The 17.3-inch Wedge is narrower than the 25-inch Zeppelin and houses five speakers driven by as many amplifiers: two 1.0-inch double dome tweeters powered by 40-watt amplifiers, two 3.5-inch midrange powered by 40-watt amplifiers, and a 6.0-inch subwoofer driven by an 80-watt amp. B&W says the Wedge offers frequency response of 35Hz to 28kHz.
After listening to a variety of tracks, it’s fair to say the Wedge delivers big, powerful audio and can easily fill a medium-sized room. Cranking up the volume didn’t distort the low end either. B&W says its aim was to create a smaller product that would fit well into a family room or a bedroom without sacrificing stereo imaging and high-quality sound.
One cannot escape the limitations of physics, however, and the Wedge struggles a little to recreate a well-defined stereo image. If that’s critically important to you, you can pair two Wedge speakers together; or if funds allow, you can step up to the Formation Duo.
Unlike any previous wireless speaker from Bowers & Wilkins, the Formation Duo are designed to operate as a stereo pair (for $4,000) and are not sold separately.
Each speaker is equipped with its own Formation Wireless module and a 125-watt amplifier driving a 1.0-inch tweeter and a 6.5-inch midrange/bass driver. These speakers share components with B&W’s high-end loudspeakers, including the carbon dome tweeter-on-top technology from the 700 series, and the Continuum cone drivers from the top-shelf 800 Series Diamond.
The curved cabinets are sealed versus ported, so you can place them close to a wall without worrying that you’ll distort their bass response. The left and right speakers connect wirelessly, so the only cords you’ll need are the power cables for each speaker, which can be hidden inside the optional stands.
The Formation Duo is a big step up in sound quality compared to any of the other speakers in the Formation line. This combo produces big sound that’s rich with detail. We were very impressed with its sound stage as well, and quite satisfied with its bass response. But if you find its low end lacking, you can add the Formation Bass to the equation.
The Formation Audio wireless hub was the one component we didn’t get much of a chance to play with. It’s principally designed to enable folks to add legacy audio components—a beloved turntable or a high-end CD player, for example—to the Formation’s wireless ecosystem. It’s equipped with both analog and digital inputs and outputs (analog RCA in/out, Toslink in, and digital RCA out), and it has high-performance analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters onboard.
We did get to listen to one track streamed from a turntable to the Formation Duo speakers via the Formation Audio hub, and the demo sounded fantastic.
B&W has what looks to be a very strong wireless high-fidelity audio system here, although the price tags will put it out of reach for some folks—a fact that Sonos is sure to find reassuring. But our listening opportunities were limited and outside our direct control, so we won’t pass final judgment on the Formation Suite until we’ve had opportunities to perform in-depth listening tests in our own environments. Stay tuned.
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