IT Support and Hardware for Clinics
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IT Support and Hardware for Clinics
News, Information and Updates on Hardware and IT Tools to help improve your Medical practice
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Dell now accepts bitcoin in Canada and the UK

Dell now accepts bitcoin in Canada and the UK | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

In what seems like a relatively short stretch, bitcoin has gone from shady cryptocurrency to legal tender, at least in some parts of the world. Support from a couple of big brands has certainly helped its credibility, and after Dell introduced the option to pay with bitcoin in the US last July, the company has now made it available to customers in Canada and the UK, too. According to Dell, everything from software and peripherals to business computers and even a $50,000 server system have been purchased in the US using bitcoin. Thus, it was only sensible to expand its agreement with Coinbase, the well-known exchange that actually processes the transactions, and make the checkout option available further afield. So, the next time you need a new laptop and have a couple of bitcoins lying around in your virtual wallet, you know where to spend them.

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Dell’s Venue 8 7000: A striking tablet that falls short of greatness

Dell’s Venue 8 7000: A striking tablet that falls short of greatness | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Dig out a piece of paper and a pencil and draw a generic tablet. It doesn't need to be any particular tablet, just imagine what you'd see if you walked into a Best Buy and started browsing.

Chances are, you drew a rectangle shape with a screen and symmetrical bezels all the way around it, and that's exactly what you get from most tablets. Smartphones and tablets tend to be dominated by their screens, and while OEMs can do a certain amount to give their tablets a unique feel, most of them look the same when you boil the device down to its most basic design elements.

The most interesting thing about Dell's Venue 8 7000 (or 7840, whatever it is you want to call it) is that it doesn't follow this design playbook. Instead of using conventional bezels, Dell's newest Android tablet has an 8.4-inch screen that extends nearly to the edges on three sides, with a larger "chin" at the bottom to serve as a handle and to house the speaker, webcam, and other components. If it resembles anything, it's Sharp's Aquos Crystal phones—both buck smartphone and tablet design conventions in a similar way.

When we picked up the Venue, we were primarily interested in seeing how its unique design worked for day-to-day use. We've also run it through our standard battery of tests—there's no point in dropping $400 on something that looks cool if the battery life and performance aren't there. Are the insides as pretty as the outside, and how does it stack up to other tablets in the same price range?

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How Intel and PC makers prevent you from modifying your PC's firmware

How Intel and PC makers prevent you from modifying your PC's firmware | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Even if you’re rocking the most open of open-source operating systems, chances are your laptop isn't really that "free," betrayed by closed firmware binaries lurking deep within the hardware itself.

Modern UEFI firmware is a closed-source, proprietary blob of software baked into your PC’s hardware. This binary blob even includes remote management and monitoring features, which make it a potential security and privacy threat.

You might want to replace the UEFI firmware and get complete control over your PC’s hardware with Coreboot, a free software BIOS alternative—but you can’t in PCs with modern Intel processors, thanks to Intel’s Boot Guard and the “Verified Boot” mode PC manufacturers choose.

Why Coreboot won’t support your new laptop

Coreboot was originally known as LinuxBIOS. It’s a Free Software Foundation-endorsed project working on replacing the proprietary UEFI firmware and BIOS found in typical computers. Coreboot is designed to be lightweight and only provide the necessary functions so the computer can initialize its hardware and boot an operating system. This isn’t just some fringe free software project—all modern Chromebooks ship with Coreboot, and Google helps support it.

When someone recently asked whether Coreboot would support new Intel Broadwell ThinkPads on the mailing list, the response was informative:

“New thinkpad's can't be used anymore for coreboot. Especially the U and Y Intel CPU Series. They come with Intel Boot Guard and you are won't be able to boot anything which is unsigned and not approved by OEM. This means the OEM are fusing SHA256 public key hashes into the southbridge.

For more details take a look at Intel Boot Guard architecture. It could be also confirmed by Secunet AG and Google.”

Intel Boot Guard explained

Intel themselves have a quick little explanation of Boot Guard in this document about Haswell’s new platform features. In summary, Boot Guard is a hardware-based technology designed to prevent malware and other unauthorized software from replacing or tampering with the low-level UEFI firmware.

Boot Guard has two separate modes, according to Intel. Every single PC OEM we know of configures it to work in “Verified Boot” mode. The PC manufacturer fuses their public key into the hardware itself. If the UEFI firmware isn’t signed by the OEM—that is, created by the OEM—the computer will halt and refuse to boot. That’s why you can’t modify the UEFI firmware or change it to something else.

There’s also a second option: “Measured Boot” mode, where the hardware securely stores information about the boot process in a trusted platform module (TPM) or Intel Platform Trust Technology (PTT). The operating system could then examine this information, and—if there was a problem—present an error to the user.

As Purism recently discovered, laptop makers can choose to have their hardware boot without looking for a digital firmware signature at all. The fusing of the processors can be set by the motherboard manufacturer to simply bypass the check. Purism's crowdfunded Librem 15 laptop will ship with a modern Intel CPU fused to run unsigned BIOS code.

In other words, Intel and Boot Guard don’t absolutely require hardware manufacturers to lock the computer to only using manufacturer-signed firmware, but every major PC maker does anyway.

Want to stay up-to-date on Linux, BSD, Chrome OS, and the rest of the World Beyond Windows? Bookmark the World Beyond Windows column page or follow our RSS feed.

It’s all a big conspiracy, right? Not exactly

It can be tempting to see this as a big conspiracy. These big corporations—Intel and hardware manufacturers—are preventing us from running the software we want to run on our own computers, as if we were using some underpowered, locked-down Surface RT instead of a powerful PC we’re supposed to have control of.

And sure, that’s true, but Boot Guard does help secure the UEFI firmware and protect against malware that infects the boot process. Intel and PC OEMs aren’t out to crush free software and prevent open hardware. The truth is more mundane—Intel and hardware manufacturers prioritize tighter security for the masses over the proprietary firmware concerns of a few. 

But, to their credit, Intel does allow PC manufacturers to configure the hardware in a different way. The real way to get that open hardware seems to be to build it from scratch and make the right decisions along the way, as Purism is trying to do. If you want this sort of open hardware, be prepared to vote with your wallet. Taking existing PC laptops and trying to bend them into open hardware—as Gluglug does with the Free Software Foundation-endorsed Libreboot—doesn’t seem to be an option anymore.

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Disk storage market grows with inclusion of ODM vendors

Disk storage market grows with inclusion of ODM vendors | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Disk storage sales grew more strongly in the third quarter, helped by sales of non-branded storage gear sold directly to datacenters.

Third-quarter disk storage sales jumped 5.1 percent year over year, reaching US$8.8 billion, according to research firm IDC. This was a change from the anemic growth the market saw earlier this year, brought on by falling demand in mature markets.

Sales of server-based storage with high capacity were up 10 percent in the third quarter. But the big bright spot was the influx of storage systems from original design manufacturers (ODMs) which design and produce hardware to other companies’ specifications. In the storage market, these manufacturers are bypassing traditional brands, selling directly to cloud service providers that put the equipment to use in hyperscale datacenters.

Similar trends appeared in an analysis of server market share published by Gartner earlier this week. It found that server purchases from ODMs by Google and Facebook were driving the market in the third quarter.

For the first time in its analysis of the storage market, IDC included ODMs’ sales. In the third quarter, ODMs collectively posted the highest level of growth, with their storage sales up 22 percent year over year.

Although the ODMs’ market share was only at 11.6 percent, the sales accounted for 43 percent of all storage capacity in the quarter.

IDC didn’t identify the ODMs, but the prominent ones are based in Taiwan and include Quanta Computer, Wistron Group and Inventec among others. The ODMs typically offer unbranded products, and they’ve been steadily growing in the server and storage market by selling directly to Google, Facebook and Amazon Web Services.

Increasingly Web services and cloud providers are tapping ODMs to design and build new storage architectures, “with limited or no involvement from traditional IT original equipment manufacturers,” IDC said on Friday.

With ODMs included in the mix, the market share of branded storage vendors all decreased. But EMC still held on to the top spot, with a 20.8 percent share, while HP held on to second place, with a 14.6 percent share.

All the top branded vendors experienced some growth in the quarter, except for IBM, which saw its revenue fall by 7.2 percent year over year.

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