For once, the two biggest items of note this month are both pieces of software – and free ones at that.
Microsoft has made Vista's first service pack available to all who want to download it and says new PCs will start shipping with Vista SP1 preinstalled from about April. As you’ll learn from our indepth review review, there’s little in the way of substantive change.
Having spent an hour or so letting Windows get on with installing Vista SP1, the biggest changes you’ll find are that Search is no longer resident on the Start menu (so you can specify your desktop search tool of choice) and there’s a less draconian approach to making you verify and validate your copy of the OS. Improved support for flash memory is the other main update.
Windows XP users also get a timely update, in the form of SP3. Again, this loosens up activation restrictions but also adds some more tangible updates in the form of improved security and compatibility with other versions of Windows.
We also got our hands on two new streaming devices: Linksys' Media Center Extender and Archos TV+. The Linksys proved an inobtrusive addition to the lounge (in marked contrast to the Xbox 360 HD DVD Media Center Extender add-on box). However, both this and the Archos detracted from our home entertained with their intermittent and inconsistent performance. Until any of these manufacturers makes a product that is as reliable and straightforward as a TV, they’ll struggle to make an impression in the digital home, I’m afraid.
This of course was the month Blu-ray finally snatched the high-definition crown and stuck it to the HD DVD crew. However, many are predicting it won’t matter a jot since HD remains a fairly lame and expensive duck. Most of us would prefer to buy cheap standard-definition DVDs for £3 a pop and start streaming or downloading rented blockbusters as and when it becomes practical and reliable to do so.
On the business front, we’ve cast our reviews net wider than ever this month. We’ve tested lightweight laptops models from Sony, Toshiba and Packard Bell. All were easily toutable and each was amply equipped with hard disk space, connectivity options and processing power to suit even the most demanding road warrior.
We also tried out two ruggedised laptops. For those that make rigorously demanding treks, Getac's V100 is not only armour-clad and shockproof, it even has special protection for individual ports to prevent water damage. You’d be surprised how long it took us to locate the power port, though.
Panasonic, meanwhile, having kickstarted the ruggedised laptop market with its military-grade ToughBooks, has refined laptop protection with a far lighter, slimmer and more attractive range aimed at those of us who merely have to contend with road rage and the bustle of airports and commuter trains.
Finally, behind the scenes it’s been a month of change at the PC Advisor Test Centre. We bid farewell to reviews editor Robin Morris after more than 11 years of dedicated service and are also bidding adieu to PC Advisor towers and heading for a larger, better-equipped locale.
With a new reviews editor gracing our review pages from the beginning of March and some sea changes in how we present reviews both online and in print, we’re keen to hear from you about what you want PC Advisor to cover in future issues.
Add your comments to the bottom of this blog or email us at [email protected] to let us know how you’d like to see our charts and our reviews coverage evolve in the coming months and years.