When we first learned of Dell’s plans to release a full Windows 8.1 mini tablet we were excited to see what would be possible from such a small device. Unlike Windows RT tablets limited to running Windows store applications and unable to load device drivers, the standard x86 architecture of the Intel Bay Trail Atom in the Venue enables access to the broad ecosystem of Windows device drivers and applications developed before Windows 8′s Modern or “Metro” UI and Windows store came to be.
Upon receiving one of the first units to ship from Dell we immediately wanted to find out if we could use an OTG (on-the-go) cable to connect external USB devices to the Venue through the single female USB Micro B port normally used for charging. Fortunately the Venue does have OTG support! With the help of the OTG cable, a UD-3000 dock, and three USB3-VGA adapters, we turned a tiny 8″ Windows 8.1 tablet into a full blown desktop workstation with four monitors, full-size keyboard and mouse, gigabit Ethernet, and more. Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks to be addressed- most notably that there is no way to charge the venue while it is docked- read on for need to know technical details.
We decided to make a YouTube video showcasing the Venue along with some of our products such as the Plugable UD-3000 USB 3.0 Docking Station and the Plugable USB3-VGA USB 3.0 to VGA Adapter. Our video went viral among tech enthusiasts, even attracting the attention of Michael Dell himself who retweeted our video stating “Sweet demo of the Dell Venue Pro 8″.
For those who have not yet seen the video:
While the Intel Bay Trail platform supports USB 3.0 internally, the OTG connection is limited to USB 2.0. However, the biggest issue is that because the Venue has only a single female USB 2.0 Micro B port, you can’t charge it while using OTG devices. A work-around for this with other tablets is an OTG “Y” cable that connects both a charger and USB device at the same time. Sadly, this does not work with the Venue.
At this time, here at Plugable, we are working on a solution that will allow charging while using OTG devices, but we do not have any information on if and when such a solution will be available to the market. The Venue has to see special signaling on the USB data lines to initiate a charge–something that an OTG Y cable cannot do. This limitation means than once the battery runs out, you have to stop working with all of your accessories and revert to just the tablet itself so you can charge it. For some users, the inability to charge while using USB devices is not enough reason to avoid using Venue as a desktop replacement. For those users, we have a list of items to make this a better experience.
When using a dock with the Venue, the dock itself is powered from its own power adapter and will not draw any extra power from the Venue battery. If using any non-powered device with the Venue, it will draw extra power and battery life will drop. Whenever possible, we suggest using a dock or powered hub to connect USB devices.
When using any DisplayLink adapters, battery life will drop faster whether or not the adapter is actually connected. Currently there is a known issue where the DisplayLink drivers cause the Intel HD Graphics to not enter a low power state, even while the Venue is in sleep mode. The battery drain is about 6% per hour compared to only about 1% without the DisplayLink software. Currently the best way around this issue without uninstalling and reinstalling the DisplayLink software between use is to just disable the “DisplayLinkManager” service when not in use and enable it when needed.
Update: 3/28/2014 – DisplayLink has released a new driver, 7.5 M1 – 2/27/2014, that solves the power drain from just having the DisplayLink drivers installed. There are a few key points to mention however. With 7.5 M1, we recommend to not disable the Venues built in screen while using DisplayLink attached screens or else the mouse pointer may disappear.
Here are some tips to maximize battery life:
- We suggest disabling the automatic brightness feature:
- Open the settings from the charms bar.
- Click “Change PC settings” at the bottom.
- Click “PC and Devices.”
- Click “Power and Sleep.”
- From here you can toggle “Adjust my screen brightness automatically.”
You may then adjust brightness as you see fit. However, when using with an external monitor, we suggest turning the brightness of the Venue to the middle to lowest setting to prolong battery life.
- Disable any unnecessary programs at startup from the “Startup” tab in the Task Manager.
- Turn off any 3D intensive screensaver. Instead, use the Windows power management settings to allow the Venue to turn off monitors after a defined period of inactivity.
- Try to run virus scans, maintenance scans and the like only while charging.
- If using a dock with built-in audio, connect speakers or headphones to the dock and not directly to the Venue.
- When using a dock, connect to the Internet through the Ethernet connection if possible, and avoid using Wi-Fi.
The most important thing to know about using the Venue with multiple monitors is that increasing the number of monitors, combined with the increasing the resolution of the monitors, decreases overall performance. Currently, we recommend no more than two monitors running at a maximum of a 1920×1080 resolution. In our video we ran four monitors at 1280×1024 which is a similar overall configuration in terms of total pixels. For a dual monitor setup we recommend our UD-3900 dual-head docking station.
HD video playback is a question that we get often. Unfortunately the Venue just isn’t powerful enough to playback HD 720p & 1080p YouTube videos on an external DisplayLink attached monitor.
Issues with mirror mode–We have had mixed results using the Venue in mirror mode. We do not have a clear understanding as to why it works for some and fails for others. At this time we cannot recommend using any of our USB display adapters for a mirroring application. We suspect it has to do with the Intel HD Graphics drivers and/or display settings on the Venue not working properly with DisplayLink based adapters. It could also be an incompatibility with the touch screen or automatic gyroscope rotation settings. Extended desktop mode works just fine and this is what the majority of users will want.
Miracast is also non-functional when the DisplayLink drivers are installed.
There are several ways to maximize performance for use as a desktop workstation that include optimizing a combination of Windows settings on the Venue.
First of all, freeing up space on the SSD is especially critical for 32GB Venue users, because the tablet comes from the factory with less than half of the SSD free. This severely limits what programs can be installed and how much user data can be stored. We recommend uninstalling any pre-installed applications that are not needed, however, we strongly recommend leaving the pre-installed Dell software alone, as it may cause issues if removed. The Venue does have a Micro SD card slot capable of supporting a 64GB card, however, speeds are highly dependent on the SD card and will be far less than the built-in SSD. Installing programs to the SD card is not recommended unless speed is not important for that program. Instead, the SD card should be dedicated to data storage for files.
The biggest factor for improving performance is maximizing the potential of the SSD drive in the Venue. To attain higher speeds the built-in drive encryption in Windows 8.1 must be disabled. If encryption on your Venue is not important, we highly suggest this change as it will make your computing experience much more enjoyable.
Increasing the speed of the SSD not only increases how fast programs will open, but it is also a major factor in overall performance. This due to the fact the Venue only has 2GB of memory and has to create a page file on the SSD to act as virtual memory if and when the real memory runs out. For power users who multitask this is a critical factor. Adjusting the page file settings can also help. We recommend that virtual memory be set to “System managed size” on the SSD (C: drive) and if a Micro SD card is present, to also have a page file there as well (as long as this SD card will be permanent storage in the Venue).
- To disable Windows 8.1 disk encryption feature follow these steps:
- Open “PC settings” from the Start menu.
- Click “PC and devices.”
- Click “PC Info”
- Click “Turn off” at the bottom of the page.
Some have asked about the gaming potential of the Venue through our USB graphics adapters. Here are our thoughts on the subject:
USB graphics devices are “virtual” devices where much of the heavy lifting is done in the CPU, by hooking into the graphics stack. The DirectX APIs used by games assume direct hardware access (a PCIe graphics card). DisplayLink’s drivers attempt to emulate as much of the functionality as possible, which is why some 3D functionality (like that needed for desktop and apps) works.
We don’t recommend running games with USB graphics, because this emulation cannot be perfect. Even without specific compatibility problems, performance will always be a challenge–the extra CPU work required for USB graphics will cause reduced frame rates and other problems. Normal desktop and application use is fine because they don’t push the system as hard as 3D games do.
Common problems experienced when trying to run a game on a USB graphics adapter include: games not launching, games crashing, screen flickering, and/or the screen going black.
All of these issues are especially important to consider for the Venue due to its limited processor, memory, and graphics abilities, compounded by the fact it will be running off of the battery.
What about the Lenovo Miix 2 and the Toshiba Encore 8? (And Other Bay Trail Tablets)
While we do not have all of these tablets to test in our office, they appear to be based off of the same Intel Bay Trail reference design and will likely have the same limitations as the Venue 8 Pro. We also suspect non-reference design tablets like the
Bay Trail based ASUS T100TA and the Dell Venue 11 Pro 5130 will face these limitations as well.
Update: 3/31/2014 - We now have an ASUS T100TA and are extremely pleased with this unit in our testing so far. It has a standard USB 2.0 Micro B port that supports OTG just like other Bay Trail tablets but it also has a Micro HDMI port. Most importantly when docked with the keyboard base, there is a full sized USB 3.0 port — this is great because when docked, you can charge through the Micro B port while connecting external USB devices, something none of the other Bay Trail options we’ve tested so far can do.
I have been using the T100TA with one of our UD-3000 docks connected to the USB 3.0 port with a 1080p screen attached to the dock and another 1080p screen attached directly to the Micro HDMI port. The performance of this unit compared to the Venue 8 Pro is much better without the limitation of USB 2.0 only for connectivity.
Update: 3/28/2014 – We now have a Lenovo Miix 2 and can report functionality between this tablet and the Venue 8 Pro are identical with the use of our products.
Let us know of any Venue 8 Pro tips you have in the comments below!