The 2012 Products of the Year

The Best of the Best

With the possible exception of medicine, the high-tech computing industry enjoys an enormous share of breakthrough technologies, pivotal products and watershed moments. And 2012 saw some blockbusters. Arguably among the biggest technological advances in history came this year, and they have led to an unparalleled leap in the sophistication of computing systems, with dozens more on drawing boards for years to come.

Here's what stood out for CRN in 2012.


Intel Third-Geneartion Ivy Bridge Core Series

Performance results don’t lie. Ivy Bridge processors have exhibited significantly faster speeds than their planar-gate predecessors. Their Tri-Gate technology incorporates 3-D transistors that maximize current flow when in the on state and consume close to zero when off.

Also significant, Ivy Bridge is the first Intel processor series with direct support for DirectX 11, Microsoft’s latest graphics and multimedia APIs. On this score, Intel archrival AMD is no longer the only game in town. And as Intel promised, Ivy Bridge processors use the same sockets as Sandy Bridge parts.


Dell PowerEdge R720

Dell’s 12th generation two-socket, 2U Xeon server—the PowerEdge R720—outperformed last year’s CRN Product of the Year in the server category by a substantial margin.

The R720 is built around Xeon E5-2600 series processors, the Sandy Bridge edition of Intel’s sturdy server platform. The tested unit was equipped with two eight-core E5-2680 processors running at 2.7GHz. Expandable up to 768 GB in 24 DIMM slots, the tested unit arrived at the CRN Test Center with Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise SP1 running on 128 GB of DDR3 1,600MHz SDRAM. The PowerEdge R720 turned in the fastest Geekbench score we’d seen in the CRN Test Center up to that time.


Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook

While some laptop makers are content to simply conform to the Ultrabook spec, Samsung took Intel’s ideas and ran with them. The Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook is a thin, lightweight powerhouse that’s about as stylish and feature-rich as an ultraportable can be. Chiseled from solid aluminum, the Series 9’s flat charcoal hue is highlighted with bright silver borders. Inside is a comfortable chiclet-style backlit keyboard with dedicated function keys for screen and keyboard brightness, video output, speaker, fan and Wi-Fi. There’s also a key to bring up Samsung’s Easy Settings decembe R 2012 25 screen, which puts eight major control panels and other system functions in a single place. We salute Samsung for taking the lead to add value and simplify Windows. Easy Settings also provides several Samsung-only functions, including Fast Boot mode, which in our tests reduced cold boot time from an already amazing 11.2 seconds to 10 seconds flat.

Desktop PCs

HP Z620

The Z620 Workstation from Hewlett-Packard is the fastest PC we’ve ever seen. The handsome midtower is physically sound, well designed, easy to service without tools, and its benchmark performance was simply off the charts. The system we tested packed a pair of Intel’s latest Xeon E5-2690 processors running at 2.9GHz. For graphics, HP threw in a Quadro 4000 from Nvidia with 2 GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory moving data across a 256-bit memory interface at a maximum speed close to 90 GBps. For storage, the Z620 held a pair of 300-GB SAS drives plus a 256-GB SSD SAS, all controlled by an LSI 9212-4i SAS RAID card. The operating system was 64-bit Windows 7 Pro. The tested system, with its 16 cores and 32 processor threads with access to 24 GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 error-correcting memory, cranked out a maximum Geekbench 2.3 score of 41,348, the highest we’ve seen on any machine, server, workstation or otherwise.

Retail Appliance

Motorola ET1 Enterprise Tablet

Here’s a tablet that could be good medicine for solution providers seeking a versatile development platform. Motorola’s ET1 Enterprise Tablet is a rugged, manageable Android-based appliance designed to help improve workforce productivity in health care, hospitality, manufacturing, retail and any industry that can benefit from custom applications running on a durable mobile device. For app development, the company offers free tools that can be used to target this and other mobile devices running Android, iOS as well as desktop systems.

At the heart of the ET1 is a dual-core application and graphics processor running Android 2.3.4 at 1GHz, along with 1 GB of system RAM and a total of 8 GB of memory for application storage (implemented as 4-GB flash plus a 4-GB microSD card). A micro SDHD card slot permits a maximum of 32 GB to be added for application and data storage.


Belkin Secure KVM

How secure is your KVM switch? Not very, according to Belkin. Unless it’s built with some safeguards, clever hackers can use a keyboard-video-mouse switch to move enough data from one machine to another to be a threat to connected systems and networks. Addressing this threat for financial services, law firms, health care, government and other security-conscious organizations, Belkin offers its Advanced Secure line of KVM switches with total isolation for connected systems. We tested Belkin’s four-port Secure DVI-I KVM Switch and found security from top to bottom. Everything about the Belkin Secure DVI-I KVM Switch was air-tight, right down to the tamperevident outer packaging and device labeling.


Microsoft Windows Server 2012

During early demonstrations of what would later become Windows Server 2012, Microsoft’s unofficial slogan for its fledgling product was ’It Just Works.’ And it did. Brilliantly. Among the most impressive demos were of improvements made to Live Migration, a feature introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2. In essence, Microsoft opened with a claim that any feature implemented with Windows Server 2012 can be live-migrated, and went on to prove it. One demo involved a virtualized Fibre Channel host bus adapter moved from one server to another using drag-and-drop without interrupting its SAN traffic. Another migrated a fully operational virtualized network from an on-premise server into a cloud-based one without interrupting services and without changing the IP addresses. Virtual networking works by mapping virtual IP addresses to a physical one on the wire. It just worked.

Data Center

Microsoft System Center 2012

Hallelujah to Microsoft for finally seeing the bigger picture. The company this year unveiled System Center 2012, which not only reduces the number of licensing options associated with its server tools from more than a hundred to just two, it also can recognize and manage multiple servers at once. A new Dashboard shows servers of different types listed in a tree style view with simple step-by-step configuration setup steps and a pane for servers listed by role and group.

A foolproof interface is also presented for configuring servers, adding roles, finding other servers to manage and combining machines for management as a group. Servers, server groups and other manageable resources are displayed as tiles with stats about each resource’s major functions. Resources in need of administrator attention and/or action are highlighted in red and are easy to spot. Drilling into a stat presents a dialog box listing those events, services or alerts.


Apple iPhone 5

How did they do that? With the September launch of iPhone 5, its first major revision since the iPhone’s introduction, Apple managed to add more than 30 percent more screen real estate, a quad-core processor, 4G compatibility and two HD cameras, yet still be thinner and lighter than the previous generation while keeping prices level. The iPhone 5 contains the A6, Apple’s latest custom ARM Cortex A9-based quad-core SoC with PowerVR GPUs that according to the company delivers double the application and graphics performance of the A5X that powers iPhone 4S. The sixth-generation iPhone takes on a sleeker look thanks to its 28nm processor (compared with 45nm of iPhone 4), and supplements its svelte stature with a two-layer display instead of three.


Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Many devices have been referred to by reviewers as ’iPad killers’ since Apple’s pivotal tablet was introduced in 2010, but none have really come close. The Galaxy Note 10.1 from Samsung is the first real contender to the haughty iPad, and the only Android tablet that can actually do more than iPad out of the box. Much more. For starters, it can run, display and operate multiple applications on the screen at one time. For example, a Galaxy Note can display a Web page on one half of the screen and a presentation in the other, permitting cut-and-paste operations between the two. It’s also possible to watch a video in a resizable window that floats atop any application or pair of apps. This window can be dragged around with a fingertip and pinched and stretched to size.