For consumers, paying for Christmas will be the first priority of 2014; until wage growth outpaces inflation many households will remain confined to a tight budget for the foreseeable future, she said.Some of the UK's biggest stores had a tough Christmas this year, between a lack of economic recovery in people's pockets and the continued demand for online shopping. Grocery chain Morrisons said its lack of online presence hit sales, contributing to a 5.6 per cent drop in like-for-like sales up to January 5. The chain is in the middle of setting up internet shopping in a deal with online grocery shop Ocado to use its IT and distribution systems.Tesco sales were also down 2.4 per cent as it and Morrisons were hit by competition from economy shops like Aldi and Lidl.Heavy discounts in December hurt margins at high street shops like Debenhams and Marks and Spencer. M&S general merchandise sales, which is mostly clothes, dropped 2.1 per cent in the 13 weeks to 28 December, a fall it blamed on unseasonal weather and a highly promotional market. Department store Debenhams issued a profit warning for the six months to April this year, which it also claimed on the sales before Christmas.December 2013 was all about nerve, margin and multi-channel, said David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG.
After competitive campaigns run by the major retailers, those retailers who held their nerve and provided a seamless service between channels will feel pleased, whilst those who discounted heavily to force sales will count the cost in margin. So what about the Windows 8.1 Pro upgrade experience? Well, a lot will depend on the speed of your external optical drive, but the whole rigmarole took just under two hours. A note on the DVD wrapper says boot up holding down F12, select the optical drive from the boot menu and follow the instructions.Toshiba's Windows 8.1 Pro upgrade process: click through to get the out-of-the-box state that isn't, as this machine was shipped with Windows 7 Pro installed However the next stage will most likely confuse some as you see two recovery options: Toshiba Recovery Wizard or System Recovery Options. The latter will offer all sorts of reset and refresh options, so stick with the first choice.You get warned that the Toshiba Recovery Wizard will erase any existing files in the process, as it upgrades to Windows 8.1 Pro and installs Toshiba's own extras. The good news is that this installer is all scripted so, apart from changing discs, it'll go through the motions without requiring endless confirmation clicks from you – and it creates a PBR image too.
Toshiba's apps are identical for both systems with just a bit of a visual makeover in places. One that new users will find popping up at some point is Toshiba TEMPRO which handles registration and warranty matters, as well as support. Yet like Dell's Inspiron 15 7000 that we reviewed recently, this welcome to the machine software has several dead links. Compatible Accessories anyone? PATH ERROR. Compatible Services? PATH ERROR.Perhaps these vendors should try eating their own dog food using their machines from time-to-time, they might get a few surprises... and maybe more people would end up buying accessories. Now there's an incentive, as I had the same error on TEMPRO for both Windows 7 Pro and Windows 8.1 Pro instals.My accuracy when typing on the backlit keyboard suffered slightly being skewed by the off-centre trackpad (I'm left-handed and have ranted about this computing bias before). The keys themselves were a tad soft with not a great deal of travel on them, which seems to be de rigeur these days. Thankfully neither trackpad nor keyboard were especially noisy. The 2Mp webcam turned out to be a bit of a star though, with spot-on colour balance delivering the most natural looking video I've seen from a laptop cam.
Incidentally, having such easy access to boot options from the F12 key made testing Linux a breeze. A while ago a reader suggested trying out Sabayon Linux and I can see why. It's very slick and booted up without a problem configured with the Universal USB Installer from a Pen Drive Linux.Apart from Masochist Linux – I did my share of that sort of thing trying to get buggy PPC versions to run on G3 iMacs – distro suggestions are welcome in the comments. 2014 has only just begun, so we should be able to get through boot up tests with a fair few of them. I tried Linux Mint on this Toshiba and it plays nicely too.As its makers no doubt intended, I found I was lugging the Toshiba Portégé Z30 around everywhere without noticing it as a major imposition. Also having a machine that's more likely to be alive than dead when it comes to battery life is major confidence booster, as you sense you can rely on it to get you through the day and then some. I could see it as an easy choice for frequent flyers.
Being primarily a business laptop, its styling is heavy on understatement, but it still makes an impression as this is no colossal XP hand-me-down that'll have other execs sniggering. Although that Ultrabook price premium remains, and at £1,300 the chances are you’ll stifle a nervous laugh when putting in the bill for the cost. SSDs steadily developed in the year but, really, the action was elsewhere, with SSDs being a maturing technology with, for example, NAND density increases enabling matching more product/pricing variations to market niches, and faster 12Gbit/s SAS interface products being introduced.It's all incremental improvement with nothing that dramatic to make you sit up and take notice. SSDs have become dull.There was a steady iteration of hybrid flash-disk drive technology products, using a small slug of flash cache - less than 24GB typically - and firmware to detect hot files and put them on the flash.For example Seagate intro’d a Desktop SSHD with 2TB of disk capacity and an 8GB flash cache in March, its 3rd generation of hybrid drives, and rebranded its Momentus XT hybrid drives as Laptop SSHDs. It announced an enterprise hybrid, a 10K 2.5-inch drive with 16GB of flash in June, with IBM using it in some of its servers.
But revolution was coming. WD sub HGST talked up Apple Fusion-style separate SSD and disk drives in June. And in December WD announced its Black2 Dual Drive with a single casing enclosing a 1TB hard disk and a 120GB SSD.Surprisingly the two devices are presented as two logically separate storage resources and not as a single pool. It remains to be seen if any other disk drive supplier will pick up this technology idea.There was one other big flash technology development in the year; SMART Storage announced it had stuffed flash chips into a memory DIMM-type module, using Diablo Technologies IP, and so arrived at flash on a server's memory bus with access latency below that of PCIe flash.Thus, cheap flash could be used as a part of the overall server memory system, functioning as storage memory. It would enable working set data to be held and accessed in memory - NAND flash - that was cheaper than DRAM and faster to access than PCIe flash, networked flash arrays and, slowest of all, network disk drive arrays. It all looks promising.
The technology began to be publicised in April. SanDisk bought SMART in July, and then Canadian memory access technology supplier Netlist sued SMART and Diablo for allegedly stealing its DIMM technology to produce the Flash DIMM ULLtraDIMM product.The lawsuit caused documentation to be revealed which said IBM was building an X-Series servers that would use the ULLtraDIMM product. Other server supplier adoptions may be halted while the lawsuit plays out.The number of PCIE flash card suppliers multiplied as everyone and their brother tried to get in on the server app flash acceleration game, In March we listed EMC, Fusion-io, IBM-TMS, Intel, Micron, LSI, OCZ, Samsung, Seagate-Virident, sTec, SanDisk, and Violin Memory. There has to be a shakeout. Some of the highlight news items in the year were:-
It was all pretty much speeds and feeds development but, overall, there were no real, blow your socks off, PCIe flash hardware advances.Caching software announcements came but, effectively, only Fusion-io and Virident had software making PCIe flash usable as storage memory and, to our knowledge, no server vendor adopted that as a standard offering.Overall PCIe flash card technology, like SSD technology had a fairly ordinary year, apart from two substantial developments that could rock the flash boat:Both of these are, so far, isolated technology developments and we'll have to see if they get wide appeal. Otherwise flash tech matured without dramatic fireworks.But flash suppliers' business issues were far from ordinary with acquisitions galore and some suppliers stretched to breaking point by a market that raced away from them.CES 2014 Intel is attempting to knock rivals' SoCs off with a dual-boot platform that lets you flip between Windows 8.1 and Google’s mobile operating system on the same device.