n case you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks you'll know that Google released it's Google+ service. Normally I wouldn't take Google too seriously when dealing with social networking because they've been completely unsuccessful in the past (Orkut, Waves, Buzz) and in the latter case the results were disasterous. However, Google+ is a force to be reckoned with. I've been using Google+ along with Facebook for the last week or two to get an idea of how good/bad it is. Here's a few thoughts first.
Looks kind of like Facebook mixed with a 1984 Apple Mac
The people who are on it currently are techies mostly so there's very little of this -
It's very easy to find and add friends
It's got it's tenticles in everything (something FB has just started by allowing you to like things on third party sites)
You can search your posts
I don't see any Notes functionality
There's no game apps (but there's hints of that coming in code)You can add posts from igoogle or gmail
You can drag and drop media on your post box
You can import entire on disk photo albums in one shot
The handling of photos is on a completely different level
There's group video chats
There's outside feeds for your wall
You have complete control over who sees what
I think if you know google products you'll see a lot of integrated code here. Google reader, picassa, google chat, gmail, google search etc...
What's missing in google+
games and apps
direct messages (uses email)
Facebook largely unseated MySpace because of it's numerous apps and games. We'll see how fast Google adds this ability.
The notes will be really easy if they integrate blogger but for me they'd still need to have the same level of access control.
Wall posts, would be easy but I'm not sure they'll do it because it would be difficult to integrate it into their access control system. Currently when you post you get to see which circles (or all) can view the post. If someone else posts on your wall how do you decide this? They'd have to give up some of the access control functionality if they allowed wlal posts unless all wall posts were moderated by the wall owner. For instance someone wants to post on my wall, I'd look at the post and decide which circles get to view it before any could. That would be possible.
Direct messages should probably be handled in chat/mail. It's all starting to blur anyway. In Facebook a message has persistance whereas chat messages disapear as soon as you close the window. Facebook has already started to merge these two things into one although very clumsily. I think I'd rather Google use chat to handle user messages than email since it saves it in your email anyway and has direct delivery if both parties are online.
Design wise I think FB is a bit tighter and more space effecient. I also think that having contrast between sidebars, comments etc.. is a nice thing which Facebook does. Google+ was designed by the same guy who did the Macintosh interface from the 80s and although reviewers have raved about it I think the designer isn't aware that at some point computers started coming with colored monitors standard. Maybe he designed it on an 80s Mac. Here's hoping that Google tightens it up a bit in the future.
Sometimes you are in the trenches and you can't see anything but dirt. On occasion you're allowed to stand on a step ladder to get an idea of where you are. I just got that opportunity yesterday. In the mid 90s I started using Windows as my primary OS, then soon after ran Windows and Linux simultaneously. By 2002 I'd deleted all of my Windows clients and servers and having owned a version of Windows since. However, this is not my entire history in the computing world. Throughout the mid 80s and early 90s I used Amigas (yes, I'm one of those). If you're unaware of what the Amiga is you might want to look it up on wikipedia as they have a decent article on the history and collapse of the Amiga. In short it was created by a small group of geniuses who didn't posses enough capital to go anywhere with it. It was then sold to an incredibly ignorant company - Commodore. Commodore went from being the 10th largest PC company in the world to bankrupt in about 2 years in the early 90s. Then Amiga was sold to a European PC company called Escom who also went bankrupt a couple of years later. Then it was sold again to Gateway 2000 who did next to nothing with it for a few years and in 2000 it was sold again to some investors who created Amiga Inc. No new computers have been released in 15 years and yet people keep paying for this thing and you may be confused as to why. That's understandable so I'll try to explain.
Back in the old Amiga days we knew the value of specialized processors for specialized jobs. The Amiga could do things that computers with 10x the power couldn't do. However when it got to something that it's specialized processors weren't designed for it was slow again. The first time the Intel CPUs added a special processor into the CPU was in the i486 days and that processor was the floating point co-processor. Before the integration floating point math was handled by a special chip on the motherboard or by software routines. The hardware floating point math was somewhere around 20 times faster than in software. Every once in a while Intel and Amd added additional instructions that would speed up some function. Most of these instructions where multimedia related (SSE, 3DNOW) and none of them effected my life any. Fast forward to 2005 or so and we see VIA the underdog in the Intel x86 race add instructions in it's CN400 chipset to speed up encryption algorithms. So for one particular function (AES encryption/decryption) this CPU/chipset combo was blazing fast but for everything else it was still dog slow. Interesting idea but poorly executed perhaps. I did build a mini-ITX router using the VIA chipset. With VIA Padlock providing hardware encryption/decryption it's been great for SSH, OpenSSL and AES disk encryption via Cryptsetup. It however, doesn't make a very fast desktop computer.
Intel has grabbed this idea of hardware AES support and added it to their new CPUs. CPUs that in their own right are fast enough to be useful so I picked up a 2.5 ghz Core i5 system. My main desktop computer is an AMD Phenom II 6 core system at 2.8 ghz which I'll be using as a baseline. It's fairly fast but has no hardware crypt support. I'm going to demonstrate some typical benchmarks to show the general speed of each CPU then focus on the hardware crypt support using OpenSSL, OpenSSH and Cryptsetup.
Before you get all excited because you have a recent Intel CPU and you think it has AES-NI in it you might want to check Intel's beta comparison chart (which seems impossible to find by googling) at http://ark.intel.com/MySearch.aspx?AESTech=true. You can also use this comparison to check other options in the CPU like VT and VT-D. I keep this chart bookmarked before I make any purchases of Intel CPUs otherwise I'd end up with a bunch of stuff I don't want. Do NOT assume anything when dealing with Intel. For instance the Core i5-460 does NOT have AES but the core i5-560 does which sort of makes sense since the i5-560 is a bigger more powerful CPU right (as shown by the bigger model number)? Not necessarily true as seen by a weirder example - the Core i5-650 (AES-NI) and the Core i5-750 (No AES-NI). Why would a more expensive, more powerful CPU with a higher number not include AES-NI? I don't know, ask Intel.
To show the differences between hardware and software encryption I've prepared three computers without hardware crypt support and two that do. The company that started it all was VIA with their padlock instructions in their CN400 chipset so I've included an Epia SP Mini-ITX motherboard sporting a Via C3 at 1.3 Ghz and 1 GB of DDR ram. As a reference I've included a basic MSI Wind netbook with an Intel Atom 230 at 1.6 ghz. I don't expect much of anything out of this dog slow CPU but I think what we'll see is how much encryption impacts it and even though we may choose not to do full disk encryption we may connect to a VPN or log into https websites and feel the pain. The other CPU with hardware encryption instructions is the new Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5-2520 at 2.5 Ghz. This has the aforementioned AES-NI instructions which should speed things up nicely. The Core i5 is a dual core CPU so for contrast I've included an AMD Athlon II X3 - a triple core CPU running at 2.9 Ghz. With another 400 mhz and an additional core this should give the Core i5 some competition. Lastly I've included an AMD Phenom II X6 - a hexacore beast running at 2.8 ghz which through brute force should be able to turn some pretty good numbers.
VIA C3 @ 1333 mhz
1 GB 400 mhz DDR ram
Intel Atom 230 @ 1600 mhz
1 GB DDR2 ram
AMD Athlon II 435 @ 2900 mhz
2 GB ram
Intel Core i5-2520 @ 2500 mhz
8 GB of ram
AMD Phenom II X6 @ 2900 mhz
4 GB of ram
Baseline Benchmarking with Passmark
The first test is a general benchmark to demonstrate the overall performance of the systems. The passmark statistics can be found at http://www.cpubenchmark.net.
The interesting thing to note about this chart is the incredible speed Intel is getting out of each one of it's i5 cores. The Core i5 has 2/3 the performance of the Phenom X6 with 1/3 the cores and at a lower clock speed. This is very impressive. The Athlon II doesn't fare so well against the Core i5 and I think it's safe to say both the Atom and the C3 are dog slow. You don't realize how bad the Atom is until you compare it to a run of the mill desktop CPU and realize it has about 1/10 the power. It has to be noted that the Atom and C3 only have one core but still one core in the Core i5 are 6x times faster than one core in the Atom. Just for kicks I looked up the speed of an ancient AMD Athlon 2600+ from 8 years ago which we wouldn't even think about building a computer out of now it trounces the Atom! The Atom uses less electricity and costs pennies to make which is why it exists.
Our first encryption specific test is using openssl's benchmark argument. I've tested both the aes-128-ecb cipher and the aes-128-cbc ciphers and only posted the results for 8192 Byte blocks.
Woh! Our next to worthless VIA C3 puts a big lump on the Hexacore! In fact the VIA C3 beats the Hexacore in both tests by as much as 50%! The numbers for the VIA C3 are VERY impressive. For a CPU with 1/30th of the power of the Phenom II X6 it's pretty fast for doing this one thing. The Intel Core i5 pulls ahead by a good margin using it's hardware AES-NI instructions which is expected with a 2x - 10x speed improvement over the Hexacore.
Truecrypt 7.0a has support for AES-NI but not for Padlock which shows up in the VIA C3's horrible results. Ten MB/second encryption speed isn't worth anything. I also included results for Twofish with no CPU provides hardware acceleration for which shows the advantages of having hardware crypt support. The Atom is dog slow as we'd expect but almost usable. You could encrypt a USB thumb drive and not notice the impact too much outside of your CPU going to 100% when you write to it.
The Hexacore is about 3x times faster than the X3 which is interesting as it only has twice the number of cores. I can't really explain that one. However the Core i5 pulls ahead by quite a large margin but only because of AES-NI. AES speed is about 2.5x that of the Hexacore which is VERY impressive for a 2 core CPU pulling off 1.9 GB/sec average encryption/decryption speed. However, using twofish as the cipher shows the hexacores muscle and is roughly twice as fast as the Core i5.
Real World Benchmarks
Benchmarks are fun to look at but what we really need is a real world test - although the bars here are not to scale I'm afraid so you'll need to use the numbers. For a real world test I could just encrypt a volume and write to it but the results across this wide range of hardware would be irrelivent because the disk systems and drives themselves are vastly different in speed. So to create a more fair playing field and focus on the encryption abilities I've created a 400 MB ramdisk, then created a file inside and using losetup attached it to a loopback device. Once I have the loopback device I can format or encrypt the device as I please. To limit human error I've created a script named testluks.sh that I used to automate this process on each machine. This script is available in the Bash Downloads section.
The commandline I used to do the actual encryption is as follows
The secure.key file you'll need to create yourself if you want to duplicate this benchmark. You can make a keyfile by reading data out of /dev/urandom. I won't get into how secure this data is here as I'm mainly interested in testing speed. If you want to Cryptsetup or Truecrypt in production you may want to research keyfiles more thoroughly. It should be noted that Truecrypt has a decent keyfile generator.
I found in my research mentions of Padlock needing it's data aligned in order for the hardware encryption to do it's job. I didn't have time to research this but if anyone has an insight I'd like to hear it.
There's a couple of things to note here. The encryption/decryption numbers I got from the software decryptors were rock solid in that they varied very little. The numbers I got from from Core i5 varied by 100 MB/sec and even put encrypted ramdisk speed higher than unencrypted ramdisk speed part of the time. I'm not sure why this variance exists so to get as reliable numbers as possible I ran it a bunch of times and took the average for both encrypted and unencrypted ramdisks. Maybe the variance has to do with immature drivers or possibly even bottlenecks in the CPU that don't always appear. At this point it's just speculation.
The other question these numbers brings up is what happened to Padlock? We can write to our ramdisk at 111 MB/sec but when encrypted we can only write at 31 MB/sec even with hardware encryption? To get some answers I ran some more tests just on the VIA C3 where I stressed the write speeds of the ramdisk, the mounted loopfile in ram and the encrypted loopfile in ram. This shows something very interesting, the C3 doesn't seem to have enough CPU power to handle the overhead of several layers of filesystems and loopbacks. This is a guess of course but you can see that we can write to the ramdisk at 111 MB/sec but to a mounted ext2 formatted file in ramdisk is just 44 MB/sec. We lost 67 MB/sec just in that process so something is a little off. We only lost another 13 MB/sec in the encryption process. I also tested writing to a hard drive partition, a loop device inside a hard drive partition and an encrypted loop device in a hard drive partition. According to hdparm the drive itself can read at about 30 MB/sec so I wasn't expecting too much here. The result was that I can write to the harddrive at 19 MB/sec, to an unencrpyted loopback file on the harddrive at 19 MB/sec and to an encrypted loopback file on the harddrive at 11 MB/sec. It's clear that Padlock works best over a network.
I think the summary here is that VIA did a great job on Padlock and saddled it with a pathetic CPU.
AES-NI rocks but equal results can be had by throwing a lot of horsepower at it. Soon I'll be working on an Intel Hexacore with AES-NI and will be excited to see what kind of numbers I can get out of it. I also think that AMD has no other choice but to jump on the AES bandwagon because Intel is killing them. The AES decrypt speed on Intels Hexacore has been clocked at over 3 GB/sec. I'll be benchmarking one later in the summer.
I'd be interested in playing with the new VIA's new 1.4 Ghz quad core Isaiah chips with Padlock in them. As a general purpose CPU it's posting faster numbers than AMD's new Brazos CPU and I'd bet the AES performance on it is heads above any of the other CPUs. Maybe my mini-ITX router board will get replaced in the near future...
In case you've been living under a rock and having seen Google's announcement of Go here's a tip - it's designed by Ken Thompson. Ring any bells? He's the guy who along with Dennis Richie created this little thing called Unix (which virtually every one of the top 100 supercomputers in the world as well as at least half of the Smartphone market runs variants of) and another little thing call the C language. Yes, most every other language was either based on C or used parts of it. Even today Linux is written in C. Had Go just been yet another beta project from Google I wouldn't have paid attention but if Ken says there was a need for a new language then I'm going to take it serious.
Here's the link - golang.org. Since I've just started playing with it I can't tell you if it's any good or not. I also can't tell you whether it's worth learning or not since I don't know the answer to that yet. I will however, tell you that I'm going to play with it and depending on my thoughts I may or may not dedicate a sectin of this site to it. At first glance it looks like compiled Python. Anyway here's how to install it for x86_64 on Ubuntu 10.10.
As any of my readers know I travel a lot. I also blog a lot, take photos a lot and research a lot. That’s a lot of lotting. Thus when I’m travelling I need a computer. I know people who rely completely on Internet Cafes but I really like editing photos using my own computer late at night in my apartment in Paris, or Venice or Budapest or anywhere else as opposed to paying by the hour to use some age old slow Windows machine. Not to mention I can upload all of my photos while I’m sleeping via secure copy instead of having to babysit it.I also like to travel light thus I’ve always leaned toward small lightweight laptops.
My first travel laptop was a Sharp MM20 that I purchased in 2004 for my trip from London to Istanbul. This is probably my favorite still. However, it came to an untimely end in Krakow Poland when I left it running in our apartment while we went out to dinner. It was an unusually hot day and roof tiles peeled up on the roof followed by an equally unusual downpour. Our roof as you would expect only leaked in one spot - right over my Sharp MM20. The poor thing continued running under a direct stream of water for an hour. It took me a month to dry it out and then it continued to run for another year although in somewhat of a crippled state.If memory serves me the wifi card stopped working and it took several tries to get it to turn on. I still used it though until it finally gave up and died for good.
The Sharp MM20
The Sharp at .8 inches thick (at it’s thickest) and only 1.99 lbs was ultra-sexy. That 0.01 lbs was crucial in differentiating between sexy as opposed to ultra-sexy so I’ll emphasis it here - 1.99 lbs! It had 512 MB of ram which was a lot at the time and a minuscule 20 GB ipod sized hard drive. The battery as you can imagine was tiny and even if the Transmeta CPU was efficient I got about 2 hrs of life out of each charge. To solve this issue I bought the “9 hr battery” which lasted about 6 hrs. It added about half a pound to the size and protruded out the bottom like a large wart so I actually carried both batteries, one for transport and the other I’d swap in when I decided I wanted to work for a while. Not ideal but it did work. I also used a USB mouse and since the hard drive was so small I backed up all of my photos and videos on an external USB hard drive. The Sharp had no memory card reader so I had to use an external USB and it only had two USB ports so I had to carry a mini USB hub as well. The laptop, 9 hr battery, USB hub, USB memory card reader and external hard drive weighed 3 lbs, 5 oz. I paid $1850 for everything which at the time was a good deal. One year I took my USB DVD drive too and even a USB Dye Subliminal postcard printer. The latter was really fun since we could send out customized postcards with us in them but I couldn’t justify the extra more than once.
Pluses for the Sharp MM20
Small and Beautiful
Decent screen and keybaord for the size
PCMCIA slot in a .5/.8 inch laptop!
Minuses for the Sharp MM20
Poor battery life
Not enough USB ports
CPU not very fast
VGA port needed a dongle
Small slow hard drive
The MSI Wind
After the Sharp died a friend gave me an MSI Wind Netbook. Netbooks are wimpy little Notebook computers that go for a song - in this case free because my friend didn’t like the touchpad. It had a 160 GB hard drive, memory card reader and 3 USB ports so I didn’t really have to bring anything with me. Although the idea of having my photos in one spot still made me nervous so I carried the external USB drive anyway. Total cost was $0 but had I purchased it I would have paid about $299. Netbooks are an interesting breed. Technically speaking this thing had more CPU, more ram, way more hard drive and more expansion than my Sharp and cost ? as much. What 5 years makes in the IT industry. They are however built cheaply. It’s about twice as thick as the Sharp and all plastic. The Sharp feels like a really nice, well engineered product. The Netbook... not so much. Also battery life sucked and there’s not much I could do about it - 2.5 hrs tops. An added note is that the MSI screen was 10.1 inches. The Sharp screen was 10.4 inches but if you compare them side to side you’d think something is a little fishy. The Sharp’s screen was way more useful. With the MSI they went with the wide screen format and technically it is a 10.1 inch screen but vertically it’s nearly two inches shorter than the Sharp’s. The Sharp’s screen resolution was 1024x768 and the MSI 1024x600. That’s valuable screen real estate lost. A great example of why small 4:3 screens were better than small 16:9 screens.The netbook still works and still sucks the same. It’s slow, attracts fingerprints and the battery life is still poor. I might note too that the keyboard layout is less than desirable. I remember cursing the Sharp’s tiny keyboard but now in retrospect it was quite nice. Total weight 2 lbs 15 oz with the external hard drive.
Pluses for the MSI Wind
Lots of hard drive space
Minuses for the MSI Wind
Poor keyboard layout
Cramped wide aspect screen
Maddening touch pad
Poor expansion - 3 USB ports, that’s it.
The Toshiba r705
Earlier this year I decided that I needed to get some work done and it pained me to do it on the Netbook so I bought a Toshiba r705. This is the grown up successor to the Sharp MM20! It has a 3 inch larger screen (13.3) is still fairly slim in relation to it’s size and feels a lot like a bigger Sharp. It includes a memory card reader, 500 GB hd, 4 GB of ram, DVD writer (so I don’t have to carry an external USB drive now) and a 6 hr battery life. The Toshiba is all I need by itself and only weighs 3 lbs 3 oz. Travel weight was roughly equal to it’s 10” brethren but had a dual core 2.4 Ghz Intel i3, lots of ram, lots of hard drive and a writable DVD drive. I could actually WORK on it and it was light enough to travel with. It’s size is a bit of an issue because it’s quite a bit larger than the two smaller laptops but still manageable. With the Sharp I used to just slide it between my vacuum packed clothes because it was so slim. Neither the MSI or the Toshiba have this luxury as they’re a bit more than an inch thick.
Pluses for the Toshiba r705
Great screen size - 13.3 is near ideal in my book
Great touch pad
Large hard drive
eSATA, VGA, USB, HDMI, Ethernet
Excellent weight for this size of laptop
Minuses for the Toshiba r705
Quite wide. Probably can’t get around that with a 13.3” wide aspect screen
Battery life could be better
Needed AES-NI (that’s the only reason I’m selling it)
The Lenovo X220
I mentioned I bought the Toshiba so I could work right? Now work required me to have a new thing in my CPU called AES-NI. This allows lightening fast hard drive decryption. Had I just paid another couple hundred dollars I could have gotten an r705 with it but at the time I didn’t know I was going to need it. By the time I knew the relevant Toshiba r705 wasn’t being sold anymore and it’s replacement was $1500. My search brought me to the Lenovo X220 - a mid 3lb laptop with AES-NI, lots of ram, decent hard drive, decent expansion and incredible battery life. I could have bought the lightweight 6 hr battery and my travel weight (and battery life) would have been identical to the Toshiba. However, there was the standard 9 hr battery or the extended 12 hr battery. Knowing that you never get as much as they say I bought the 12 hour battery which gets me 10 hrs. That’s still a LOT. It would allow me to use it on a trans-Atlantic flight or any cross country flight without plugging in! It also added about half a pound. Crap, I would work for an entire day just on the battery. This is the first practical laptop I’ve ever had in that regard.
The Lenovo’s screen is 12.5 inches (smaller than the Toshiba, larger than the others), has 8 GB of ram (!), a 320 GB hard drive, PCI Express slot (which I filled with an eSATA card), three USB ports (one of them ultra-fast USB 3.0), HDMI, VGA, SDHC memory card slot, ethernet and headphones. Basically everything I need. It’s a bit of a brute and as ugly too. The Sharp and Toshiba’s are pretty laptops, the Lenovo - only a mother could love. It is however durable and the keyboard has the best feel of any of them. It will make a great work laptop and I think a decent travel laptop as soon as I get a chance to take it somewhere. It’s a tad shorter than the Toshiba and would have less depth to if I’d ordered the standard battery. It’s a tad thicker though. I think overall the size difference is a wash. I kind of wish Lenovo would look over the trade show booth at just about anyone’s products though because this thing looks like an IBM Thinkpad from 1992. It even has the red rubber eraser pointer tool in the keyboard which is a bit irritating as I keep bumping it. I think I saw in the BIOS that I can turn it off. It also has a very strange bumpy touchpad and strangely shaped mouse buttons between the space bar and the touch pad in addition to the touchpad acting as mouse buttons. If you took all the input methods by ALL the other manufacturers and crammed them into one Laptop you’d have the Lenovo. However, the feel of the keyboard is great (like an old fashioned non-Chiclets keyboard!), the cursor keys, home/end/PgUp/PgDn and function keys are placed well. The shift, delete, backspace and enter keys are very large as well which is a huge improvement over other laptops.
Pluses for the Lenovo X220
Great screen size - 12.5 is near ideal
Battery life, battery life, battery life.
Even the light battery is great!
PC Expresscard slot, USB 3.0
Great keyboard feel
Decent sized hard drive
AES-NI - the reason I bought it
LOTS of ram - 8 GB. That’s more than my workstation or server
Great wifi reception
Minuses for the Lenovo X220
Weird keyboard layout
Weird red eraser pointer
Heavy and a bit bulky too
Ugly as sin
Extended battery protrudes
No optical drive!
Here are all four lined up in the following order (from left to right), Toshiba r705, Lenovo X220, Sharp MM20, MSI Wind. If you look closely at the screens on the Sharp and MSI you'll see that the Sharp looks to have a screen much larger than the MSI. This is what I was talking about earlier about wide aspect ration screens - you lose a lot. The Sharps 10.4" screen is as tall and nearly as usable as a wide screen 12.5. Also I think you can see from this photo how thin the Sharp is.
My Dream Laptop
If I could have anything I wanted I’d take an updated Sharp MM20. Stretch the screen a bit from 10.4 to 12.5. Expand the keyboard a tad, give it more oomph and increase the battery life. Yep, that’s what I’d order if I were Mayor for a day. Some people might think I just described the MacBook Air 13 and maybe they’re right so let’s look at that for a moment.
3 USB, Ethernet, SD card, VGA, HDMI, Expresscard, headphone, bluetooth
2 USB, SD card, Displayport, headphone, bluetooth
It’s interesting to see how closely Toshiba tracks the MacBook Air. Toshiba seems to have taken a 90/10 plan in that they will provide 90% of the coolness for a fraction of the price. It’s almost as light and thin ( ¼ lb and ¼ inch) but has far greater expansion and included equipment. Battery life is arguably better, CPU is faster, storage is double, plus it has a great deal more expansion for... wait for it... half the price!
How does my current choice stack up? It’s physically smaller in width and depth but twice as thick (thus half as sexy) and nearly a pound heavier. It’s clearly built for a different purpose. It has double the memory, more storage, double the battery life and double the expansion for …. wait for it... half the price!
So in short the MacBook Air is a neat bit of kit but it’s got some shortcomings - namely expandability. The other issue (and it’s a big one) that I haven’t even touched yet is running Linux on it won’t be nearly as easy. Yes, I’d put Linux where the Oh So Fancy MacOS was but I’m sure I could coax Linux on the MacBook but my options are more limited.
The other other really big issue is eSATA. I need eSATA for my current job and the Toshiba had it built in. The Lenovo has an Expresscard slot in which I placed a dual eSATA card. And the MacBook Air doesn’t have AES-NI in the CPU either which is the main reason I’m getting rid of the Toshiba. In short it wouldn’t work for my situation. However, for just a travel laptop it looks like a great deal if the price was significantly lower (or the Toshiba didn’t exist).
There are rib racks that do a great job with baby back/loin back ribs. In a pinch they may even work with St. Louis style spare ribs but fail miserably when they attempt to hold up a full rack of pork spare ribs. While digging around in the garage looking for a solution I found a wire basket I bought to grill vegetables in. Inverted this did nicely to solve my problem. I laid down one rack of pork spare ribs and one rack of beef ribs then the basket and draped a second rack of pork spare ribs over the basket. This allowed plenty of smoke travel above and below all three racks. It was fairly easy to rotate the meat as well since I just pulled out the basket with the ribs on it, rotated the bottom ribs and then put the basket in 180's opposite how it came out. The only negative to this setup was the door thermometer which was too long keeping the door from closeing. I popped it out and things went fine after that but I didn't know how hot the smoke chamber was.