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Need to Knows about the Dell Venue 8 Pro with Plugable Products

UPDATE 5/20/2014: We have solved the issue of charging while using USB devices!

Please take a look at our Kickstarter Announcement of the Plugable Pro8 Docking Station with Charging for Venue 8 Pro: http://plugable.com/kickstarter

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.

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.

There are several DIY hacks that will enable charging with USB devices connected but most are not for the faint of heart. The easier hacks require a menagerie of adapters and is usually not very practical. At this time, here at Plugable, we are working on an OTG all-in-one dock solution for the Venue that will allow charging while using USB devices without the need for any DIY hacking, but we do not have any information on when such a solution will be available to the market.

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.

Battery Life

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.

Update: 4/30/2014 - The mouse pointer issue has now been corrected in 7.5 M2 and the latest 7.6 M0.

Here are some tips to maximize battery life:

  • We suggest disabling the automatic brightness feature:
  1. Open the settings from the charms bar.
  2. Click “Change PC settings” at the bottom.
  3. Click “PC and Devices.”
  4. Click “Power and Sleep.”
  5. 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.

Multi-Monitor Support

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.

Performance

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:
  1. Open “PC settings” from the Start menu.
  2. Click “PC and devices.”
  3. Click “PC Info”
  4. Click “Turn off” at the bottom of the page.

Gaming

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: 3/28/2014 – We now have a Lenovo Miix 2 in the office and can report functionality between this tablet and the Venue 8 Pro are identical with the use of our DisplayLink based products.

Update: 3/31/2014 - We now have an ASUS T100TA in the office 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: 4/30/2014 - We have uploaded a new YouTube video showcasing our UD-3900 dock with the ASUS T100TA:

We received some attention from ASUS North America as well!

Capture

Update: 4/30/2014 - We now have a Acer Iconia W4 in the office and have been able to quickly test a Toshiba Encore 8 and can report functionality between these tablets and the Venue 8 Pro are identical with the use of our DisplayLink based products.

Suggestions?

Let us know of any Venue 8 Pro tips you have in the comments below!

When You Need a New WiFi Adapter

You love your laptop, but its WiFi network adapter is on the fritz. You could try to get it repaired or plunk down at least a few hundred bucks for a new computer. There’s also an easy, inexpensive option that will get you back on the network in no time: Use a USB-based WiFi adapter.

The USB-NANO-11N WiFi adapter plugged into a USB slot measures sticks out just a quarter of an inchPlugable’s new USB-WIFINT offers draft 802.11n wireless connectivity in an incredibly small package.

At just 0.25 inches long by 0.5 inches wide when plugged into a USB port, the USB-WIFINT is barely noticeable. With such a low profile, you don’t have to worry about the adapter snapping off from an accidental nudge. In fact, you won’t even need to unplug it before you stuff your laptop PC your backpack or totebag.

 

The USB-WIFINT uses the Realtek RTL8188CUS chipset. We chose this chipset as it has a very wide range of support including Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems.  One exception of note is OS X 10.9 “Mavericks” for which there is no driver yet available, and unfortunately no ETA for when this might be ready.

 

Size Matters
The one drawback of such a small form factor is that the USB-WIFINT has a small antenna, which limits the performance and range of the adapter.  In most real-world application, actual transfer speeds will be 35mb/sec or less. While the device is 802.11n compliant, with a theoretical top speed of 150 Mbps if you are in the same room as the router with a direct line of sight, real-world usage shows that link speeds of around 74 Mbps are more common as most users will be in a different room or on a different floor from the router.

Distance from the WiFi hotspot (router or access point) and ambient 2.4GHz radio interference from other wireless devices will cause the connection quality to vary. For optimal performance, we recommend the USB-WIFINT for customers who plan to use the adapter in the same room as the hotspot.

As noted, the adapter supports the 802.11n draft WiFi specification for data transmission in the 2.4Ghz band, but it is compatible with the older 802.11b and g specifications. It also supports the common WiFi security protocols (64/128 bit WEP, WPA/WPA2, WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK and Wi-Fi Protected Setup).

The USB-WIFINT supporting Linux combined with its small size and low power consumption of less than 250mA make it the perfect companion for the Raspberry Pi, or for other scenarios where low power consumption is more important than reception such as Android development.

Getting Connected

The adapter works in USB 2.0 and 1.1 ports, though you’ll get faster throughput in a USB 2.0 port. USB 3.0 ports are not recommended as it may interfere with nearby 2.4GHz devices. A red LED inside the unit will flash intermittently to indicate active data transfer.

If the USB-WIFINT is right for you, there’s an important step you must take before plugging it in to your computer: Download and install the latest drivers first.

We recommend installing the very latest drivers, available at:
plugable.com/products/usb-wifint/drivers

Have any questions? Just comment below or email support@plugable.com. We’re happy to help!

Plugable USB-WIFINT USB 2.0 802.11n WiFi Transceiver (Realtek RTL8188CUS Chipset) Product Details
$9.95

Using the Plugable USB-BT4LE Bluetooth Adapter with the Raspberry Pi

Using a Bluetooth adapter with your Raspberry Pi opens up a whole new world of possibilities. You can connect a Bluetooth keyboard a mouse, send music to Bluetooth headphones or music receiver, or delve into the exciting world of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) applications. The best part is that it is really easy.

If you are using Raspbian, the most common Linux distribution for the Pi, almost everything you need to use the Plugable Bluetooth adapter is already built in. Besides the Pi itself, you will need an internet connection, the Plugable Bluetooth adapter, and a powered hub that is compatible with the Pi. For the hub we recommend the Plugable USB 2.0 7-port hub, which can both power the Pi and the USB devices connected to it, so you don’t have to worry about your Pi restarting after drawing too much power through its USB ports.

First connect the monitor and internet to your Pi. Plug the Bluetooth adapter into the hub, connect the hub to the Pi, then plug the hub into an AC outlet. You can watch a video about setting up the hub here.

After the Pi starts up, log in and type the following commands to update software on the Pi. Each command can take several minutes to run. Answer “yes” to any prompts.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Next, install the Bluetooth support software with this command:

sudo apt-get install bluetooth bluez-utils blueman

After the installation finishes, type startx to start the graphical interface.

You should now see a Bluetooth symbol in a blue oval at the lower right of your screen.

Bluetooth symbol

Click it to bring up the Bluetooth Devices window, and click Search to look for devices. Any nearby Bluetooth devices in discovery mode should appear in the window. In this example, we will install a keyboard. Other devices are similar, although many will not require a PIN.

Search

Click the device you want to pair to, then select the plus sign to pair. Under device, select the service you want to connect to. If you are adding a keyboard or similar device, you will be asked to enter a pin.

Pairing request

Enter the same PIN on the keyboard to connect, and you are done.

Connected

If the Bluetooth utility does not see the Bluetooth adapter try the following commands:

sudo nano /etc/group

{change line 8 from “lp:x:7:” to “lp:x:7:pi” save and exit}

sudo reboot