These days, Windows PCs with built-in cellular connectivity are still fairly rare. But Microsoft is on a campaign to change this, especially in the business space.
During Microsoft’s WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) 2018 events in Taipei and Shenzhen over the past couple of weeks, Microsoft execs have been evangelizing so-called “Always Connected” devices.
Always Connected devicesare ARM and Intel mobile PCs with LTE cellular networking built-in which may use either SIM or eSIM technology for managing that connectivity. Though the majority of PCs from Microsoft itself and its PC partners still don’t come with LTE built-in, Microsoft execs say they are anticipating this will change.
Microsoft’s Surface Go two-in-one laptop with LTE built-in is scheduled for release before the end of this calendar year, last we’ve heard. And recently, Lenovo unveiled the first PC running the Snapdragon 850 chip, its Yoga C630 WOS. Last week, Samsung followed suite with the Snapdragon 850-based Galaxy Book2. Qualcomm has made one of the main selling points of the Snapdragon 850 its improved LTE speeds, saying the new processor will speed things up by 20 percent.
When Microsoft first began touting the first Windows 10-on-ARM devices from its OEM partners last summer, officials treated Always Connected PCs as a unique category. But that narrative is shifting, said Erin Chapple, Corporate Vice President of Windows Server, Always Connected PCs and OS Platform Technologies.
“A ‘modern device,’ now, to us, is an Always Connected PC,” she said.
Constant connectivity becomes part of what Microsoft is advising its OEMs to build into new devices, the same way it espouses Windows Hello, far-field voice recognition and more, Chapple noted.
The company also is starting to get serious about pushing connected computing as not just a consumer nicety, but as a business necessity, Chapple said. “It’s still important to talk to consumers (about connected computing),” she said, “but the future opportunity ahead is commercial.”
(That said, Microsoft recently published a new page about LTE connectivity aimed at consumers.)
Microsoft’s pitch to businesses is that built-in LTE networking will allow them to shift to “network as a service,” rather than having to set up and run their own custom networks, Chapple said. Access to fast, reliable cellular networks as part of their computing experience will alow them to skip using untrusted public networks, she added.
Always Connected PCs were just one of the tracks covered at WinHEC. Other tracks included Windows Server 2019; Windows 10 in S Mode; security: fundamentals: such as AutoPilot, Modern Standby, etc.; and the intelligent edge. For the first time at WinHEC, women in tech was also a big emphasis.
Speaking of Windows 10 in S Mode, which Microsoft has been working to get OEMs to ship on PCs — especially Always Connected ones — there will be a new requirement in Windows 10 1809 (the October Update) for Windows 10 Pro in S Mode devices. Devices running Pro in S Mode will be required to have Internet Connectivity as an out-of-the-box requirement, and will require users to log in with Azure Active Directory if those devices are enrolled in AutoPilot, as officials noted at the Microsoft Ignite IT pro conference.
2021 BMW 540i xDrive Review: Benchmark in Balance
It feels strange saying it about a $72,000 luxury car, but it’s oddly easy to overlook this 2021 BMW 540i xDrive. On the one hand, it’s not an M5, or even an almost-M5 like the M550i; at the same time, neither is it a clever plug-in hybrid like the 545e. Instead it’s about as close to a “standard” BMW 5 Series as you can get these days.
Even then, this is “standard” by degrees. A sprinkling of M-badged parts from BMW’s tuning division suggest whoever spec’d out this particular car couldn’t quite resist the lure of some customization, though the Alpine White result is still on the sober side.
It’s a handsome sedan, and fairly restrained by BMW standards. No vast grille, or exaggerated creases; it’s about as understated as the automaker’s line-up gets. Park it next to some of the luxury upstarts aiming to take a bite out of BMW’s market share and you’d be forgiven for having your head turned by the Genesis G80 or Cadillac CT5.
The 540i is, in contrast, quietly confident in its own prestige, and you can’t really begrudge it that. BMW’s recipe here is straightforward, though like the best cooking it relies on premium ingredients for a pleasing end-result. A 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 gas engine taps a little 48v mild-hybrid action for some sparkle, with 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque proving to be ample if not eyebrow-razing.
An eight-speed transmission is standard too, and BMW says you’ll see 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds. That’s properly quick, and really it’s only the even-quicker existence of the M550i and raucous M5 that make the 540i seem a little more mainstream.
The same goes for driving dynamics. In Comfort or Adaptive mode, the 540i wafts and glides like German royalty. The standard AWD car starts at $61,750 (plus destination) but $3,200 gets you adaptive dampers and active roll bars, and the result is a supple ride that luxe newbies could still learn from. There’s no wallow or marshmallow squishiness to it, just a compliance that reminds you how adept the 5 Series always has been as a long-distance cruiser.
Where Sport mode on an M5 then threatens to immolate your underwear, though, on the 540i it’s a little more tempered. What sensibly dialed-in roll remained in the corners is squashed; the suspension stiffens, though still not to teeth-shaking levels. Focused but not frenetic, even if you notch the shifter over to S mode and have the gearbox hold its ratios a little longer.
It all suits the 5 Series nicely, even if we all know that the sedan can handle plenty more if your wallet is so accommodating. The mild hybrid system lends its 11 horses to fill in any lingering gaps during gearshifts or while the turbo is spooling up, and then allows the 540i to shut off the gas engine preemptively as you slow. Usually I’m no fan of start/stop systems, but then usually they’re jerky, agricultural things; BMW’s, in contrast, is beautifully surreptitious.
The same could be said for the cabin. Saved, by price and positioning, from the typical lashings of carbon fiber and spangles, the 540i plays it safe with more mainstream luxury. The leather seats are fulsome thrones, you get a 12.3-inch digital cluster and a matching 12.3-inch center touchscreen, and BMW doesn’t stint on buttons for whose who prefer to reach out and toggle their settings that way.
The infotainment system is crisp, swift, and generally pleasing; it’s only when you need to dip into the deeper menus for things like mobile device setup that it starts to get a little confusing. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with a 4G LTE modem with WiFi hotspot. The $1,850 Premium Package adds a head-up display and wireless phone charging.
Somewhere the 540i doesn’t deviate from every other BMW is in the array of options – and the way they help inflate your sticker price. With nicer Nappa leather, the M Sport design package, and all the various other extras, my review car was sliding past $72k.
For safety, forward collision warnings, blind spot alerts, automatic emergency braking, and auto high-beams are standard. Throw in the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus package, meanwhile, and you get adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance along with Extended Traffic Jam Assist. That lets the 540i handle low-speed congestion without your hands on the wheel, using a driver-attention monitor built into the gauges to make sure you’re still watching the road. It’s neat, but since it only works when you’re crawling along in traffic it’s not as useful as, say, GM’s Super Cruise.
As for those in the back, there’s decent space there for adults, while the 14 cu-ft trunk is also practical. The EPA says you’ll see 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined, and they’re easily achieved.
2021 BMW 540i xDrive Verdict
The cynic might suggest that BMW has, if not forgotten about the 5 Series – and, more specifically, the 540i – then been distracted recently with SUVs and its upcoming all-electric models. Certainly, whether it’s from a styling perspective or a matter of dynamics, the 2021 540i xDrive feels a little more “old school” BMW than the automaker’s other recent cars.
I can’t say that’s a bad thing. Indeed if I had to sum the 540i up in a word, it’d have to be “ample”: enough power, enough design, enough comfort, and enough tech. Sure, you can chase BMW up through the echelons of the wilder 5 Series variants if you so desire, but just recognize that comes from a desire for excess.
The 2021 BMW 540i xDrive is, in contrast, an adequate sufficiency of luxury car. Not too sporty, not too plush, and not too ostentatious. That there are some compelling alternatives in the category is undeniable, but somehow all they do is highlight just how nicely dialed-in this “standard” 5 Series actually is.
Mercedes-Benz unveils T-Class and EQT all-electric concept based on new Renault Kangoo
We weren’t expecting Mercedes-Benz to unveil an MPV or small van, much less an all-electric microvan, but here it is. First off, the Mercedes EQT concept looks fantastic. It mends the styling attributes of a practical people carrier and a small luxury conveyance. Mercedes-Benz will debut two versions of the T-Class: Internal combustion (gasoline and diesel) and the EQT all-electric version.
“We are expanding our portfolio in the small van segment with the forthcoming T-Class,” said Marcus Breitschwerdt, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “It will appeal to families and all those private customers, whatever their age, who enjoy leisure activities and need a lot of space and maximum variability without forgoing comfort and style.”
Let’s start with the Mercedes T-Class, the one arriving with a slew of gasoline and diesel engines in Europe. Based on the all-new, third-gen Renault Kangoo, the T-Class is riding on Renault’s CMF-B platform, capable of supporting internal combustion and all-electric powertrains.
Measuring 4,945 mm in length, 1,863 mm wide, and 1,866 mm high, the T-Class has seven seats, two sliding doors, and second-row seats that can accommodate up to three child seats. The concept is wearing premium white Nappa leather upholstery, but we’re expecting the production version to get wear-resistant nylon materials in lower-trim models.
Of course, MBUX infotainment will come standard, and Mercedes promises the dashboard and control layouts of the concept will make it to production. It will arrive with a slew of advanced safety features and driving aids like automatic emergency braking, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, trailer stability control, and crosswind assist, to name a few.
Meanwhile, the EQT all-electric version is a hardware clone of the Renault Kangoo E-Tech Electric model, and it’s the ninth member of Mercedes-Benz’s all-electric EQ family. The concept bears tasty exterior bits like a black panel grille with 3D star-effect lighting, futuristic LED taillights, and a full-width LED light bar in the rear. It also has 21-inch aero wheels wrapped in low-profile tires and a unique bottle-shaped panoramic glass roof.
Admittedly, the production EQT will be a toned-down version of the concept seen here. Then again, Mercedes-Benz claims the packaging, body style, and practical features will remain unchanged, and that’s good news. Powertrain options for the EQT remain unannounced, but we have an idea.
Most likely, the EQT will have a single electric motor pumping out 101 horsepower, drawing juice from a 45 kWh battery pack as the Renault Kangoo E-Tech Electric. The driving range is around 165 miles using the WLTP cycle.
The Mercedes-Benz T-Class and EQT will make their official debut later this year. Production is at Renault’s MCA factory in Maubeuge, France, where both the T-Class and EQT are built alongside the Renault Kangoo and Kangoo E-Tech Electric.
Porsche makes a huge promise for its most important EV
The Porsche Taycan showed the German sports car company was taking EVs seriously, but it’ll be the arrival of the new Macan EV which really tips the scales toward electrification. Porsche isn’t quite ready to unveil the all-electric Macan quite yet, but it’s already making some big promises about the EV version of its best-seller.
It’s fair to say the Macan has been a huge deal for Porsche. Though the automaker may be best known for its 911 sports car, available as a coupe, a convertible, and a Targa, it’s crossovers and SUVs which have padded the bottom line for some time now.
In Q1 2021, for example, Macan led Porsche sales in North America, closely followed by its bigger Cayenne sibling. Indeed, Porsche sold more examples of the Macan in those three quarters than it did 911 and 718 models combined. In short, if you’re going to make an all-electric version of your most popular nameplate, you need to get it absolutely right.
Porsche’s answer to that challenge is built on the Premium Platform Electric (PPE), an electric-only architecture the automaker co-developed with VW Group stablemate Audi. Indeed, the Macan EV will be the first Porsche product to use PPE. Focused on luxury performance electric vehicles – rather than mainstream EVs as VW Group’s MEB is focused on – there’s plenty of flexibility in how PPE can be configured.
For example, Porsche and Audi have already talked about the capability of rear-wheel drive single motor setups, and all-wheel drive dual motor versions. Body styles, too, can be configured in multiple ways, with up to a 100 kW battery pack nestled into the wheelbase. In the case of the Audi A6 e-tron – a barely-disguised nod to the upcoming luxury electric car the automaker has planned for a few years out – that means a sedan, but PPE can just as easily be adapted for crossovers, SUVs, and other designs. Audi, for example, will use the platform for its Q6 all-electric SUV that’s expected to be unveiled at the end of 2022.
The all-electric Porsche Macan, meanwhile, is being planned for 2023, the automaker says. It’ll use 800-volt architecture – like the Taycan and Taycan Cross Turismo – for faster charging times along with greater performance. Indeed, Porsche isn’t holding back on its speed commitment, promising “the all-electric Macan will be the sportiest model in its segment.”
For the moment, physical prototype Macan EV models are just headed out to the road. Porsche’s development so far has been virtual, using simulations to model the design of the crossover EV more effectively. That includes the aerodynamic work which is so important for electric vehicles, to cut drag and improve range.
In parallel, however, there’ll also be another conventionally-powered version of the Macan – using gas engines still – that will be on sale alongside the Macan EV.
“Demand for electric vehicles continues to rise, but the pace of change varies considerably across the world,” Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board at Porsche, explains. “That’s why we’re going to launch another conventionally powered evolution of the current Macan in the course of 2021.”
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