Entries Tagged as 'Hardware'

Grasping at nothing with billions

Intel paid 7.7 billion dollars (US) for McAfee Associates.

WTF is up with Paul Otellini?

Does he really think that having pathetically outdated security technology is going to help keep Intel in control of computing in the ever changing landscape of mobile computing?

Clearly Intel must be in the dark about how modern software is built from the ground up to resist the security issues that plagues the old cobbled together systems of the past (ie Windoze).  Obviously, though, Intel understands that their dominance in the computing arena is likely to fade — but spending this kind of money is just insane.

One thing is clear — Intel is massively over charging for it’s processors if they can afford to dump nearly $8B US into the trash can.

Originally posted 2010-08-27 02:00:20.

Computer Cables

Whether you have a Windows PC, a Mac, or a *nix box, the one thing you’ll have a headache with is all the cables.

And for those of you who try to say you don’t — all I’ve got to say in The Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt!

There are all kind of products sold on the market to manage the cables on your computer, and many of them will make it look better, but most of them just make it that much harder to do anything with them — so if you’ve got an Architectural Digest shoot coming up you might want to run out and buy one of those, but for those of you who just want to get a handle on the cables I’ve found something that might help.

What I’ve started doing is taking a couple (sometimes three) Velcro ties and bundling all the cables that come out of the back of the computer for about a foot to a foot and a half… what that does is it keeps them together and out of the way for sliding the computer back and forth, but doesn’t create a nightmare every time you need to do something.

You want to make sure that you allow all the cables to gently bend into the bundle (not sharp kinks — it’s just not good for the cables of the connectors), and make sure that there’s reasonable clearance behind the computer (if not, you can bend the bundle to one side).

The Velcro ties are fairly inexpensive, and you can get them at office stores, dollar stores, etc.

Originally posted 2008-12-22 12:00:42.

Virtualization Solutions

On windows there’s basically three commercial solutions for virtualization, and several free solutions… wait one of the commercial solutions is free (well when you buy the operating system), and the other is partially free…

  • Microsoft Virtual PC (runs on both servers and workstations)
  • Microsoft Virtual Server (runs on both servers and workstations)
  • Microsoft Hyper-V (runs only one Windows Server 2008)
  • Parallels Workstation (runs on workstations)
  • Parallels Server (runs on both servers and workstations)
  • VMware Player (runs on both servers and workstations)
  • VMware Workstation (runs on both servers and workstations)
  • VMware Server (runs on both servers and workstations)
  • Citrix (aka XenSource)

For Intel based Mac you have commercial solutions

  • Parallels Desktop
  • Parallels Server
  • VMware Fusion

And for Linux you have the following commercial solutions, and many free solutions (Xen being one of the leaders)

  • Parallels Desktop
  • Parallels Server
  • VMware Player
  • VMware Workstation
  • VMware Server
  • Citrix (aka XenSource)

And for bare metal you have

  • Parallels Server
  • VMware

 

I’m not going to go into details on any of these, I just wanted to give at least a partial list with a few thoughts.

If you’re new to virtualization, use one of the free virtualization solutions.  You can try several of them, and many of them can convert a virtual machine from another vendor’s format to it’s own, but learn what the strengths and weaknesses are of each before you spend money on a solution that might not be the best for you.

Microsoft Virtual Server has some definite performance advantages over Microsoft Virtual PC… there are some things you might lose with Virtual Server that you might want (the local interface); but Virtual Server installs on both desktop and workstation platforms, so try it.

For Mac I definitely like Parallels Desktop better than VMware Fusion; but you may not share my opinion.  VMware claims to be faster, though I certainly don’t see it.  And I might add, that if you have a decent machine you’re running virtualization software on, fast isn’t going to be the number one concern — correctness is far more important.

Also, with each of the virtualization systems, hosts, and guests there are best practices for optimizing the installation and performance.  I’ll try and write up some information I’ve put together that keep my virtual machines running well.

For the record, I run Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 (64 bit) on Windows Server 2003 R2 x64 SP2, and on Windows Vista Ultimate and Business x64 SP1; works well.  And I run Parallels Desktop v3 on my Macs.

For the most part my guests are Windows XP Pro (x86) and Windows Server 2003 (x86); I don’t really need 64-bit guests (at the moment), but I do also run Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat, Free Spire, etc linux…

Like I said, figure out your requirements, play with several of the virtualization systems and spend your money on more memory, perhaps a better processor, and stick with the free virtualization software!

Originally posted 2008-05-18 20:25:18.

Xoom

Several weeks ago I purchased a Motorola Xoom (WiFi only model), I’d looked at the Acer, the Asus, the Samsung, and read up on the Thrive — I decided that the Xoom was the best candidate of the available Android/Honeycomb tablets available now.

I’m happy with my purchase, and it’s amazing how quickly a “gadget” can find its way into your everyday life.

I will write a lengthy review of the Xoom to let you know everything I like about it, and the things I really don’t think are that great… plus I’ll write a post on my rooting adventure (after all, it’s Android, why wouldn’t you root it).

Let me just close with it’s a great tool, and if you’re willing to carry something like that with you it gives you incredible access to books, news, entertainment, information…

I do expect that prices for 10″ tablets will continue to come down… but I’d definitely recommend you only consider a dual-core (or better) tablet.

Originally posted 2011-08-03 02:00:04.

WD TV Live Plus – Network Media Player

I purchased the WD TV Live Plus about a month ago from Amazon (good price, free shipping, great return policy if you need it)… I looked at several other alternatives including the Seagate FreeAgent Theatre, Roku Digital Video Player, and Apple TV.

Rather than high light the weaknesses I perceived in the other devices, let me underscore the abilities that I felt were compelling in the WD TV Live Plus, but let me start by listing the minimum requirements.

  • support full HD (1080)
  • support component video (I have one older panel that doesn’t support HDCP)
  • support TOSLINK and/or SPDIF digital sound
  • support HDMI (video plus audio)
  • support Netflix streaming
  • support media from local sources

Additionally there were a few more items on my wish list

  • not require any proprietary software installation (ie iTunes)
  • support MPEG2, MPEG4, h.264 plus as many other CODECs as possible
  • support audio
  • support browsing SMB/CIFs shares
  • support media servers
  • straight forward user interface
  • reputable vendor with reasonable support and updates

The WD TV Live Plus (don’t be confused by the other models WD offers — only the high end one supports Netflix) did everything I required, and everything I wanted — plus it has features beyond what I care about.

Let me start by saying I unpacked the device, plugged it in, and it worked — I didn’t need to read the manual, I didn’t need to change any settings, I didn’t need to do anything to play local media off of file shares or media servers.  The only thing I had to do to play Netflix through the device was type in the device registration code on my account screen online and it was up and running.

I cannot say that the device is perfect; but I can say that it works as well as any set top box I’ve ever used (including cable boxes, satellite receivers, U-Verse IP-TV, and HPCs).

Like all those devices you’ll get sputters on occasion (though I’ve never seen any issues with playing local media that is properly encoded), but a quick power cycle (the power button on the device actually seems to do a reboot of the device — but unplugging the AC adapter is always a sure fire way of resetting the device).

My Netflix queue started with well over 100 items in it; I’m actually watching items in the queue faster than I’m adding new items to it… it’s just so easy to watch, and so comfortable.  You kick back on the sofa and watch a movie as you’re writing a BLOG post (like I’m doing now).

I really like this device, and I’ll buy a second one for the panel in the bedroom, but I’m hoping that WD will reduce the price to be a little more competitive, and I hope that they continue to update the firmware and improve the device.

For the moment, I recommend you read the information on Western Digital’s web site – that will help to answer questions you might have.  I found that downloading and reviewing the user manual was actually the fastest way to answer most of my questions.  You can also read many other articles about the various media players available — but always keep in mind when you read the opinions of others that they are looking at the device for their needs with their perspective… consider what they say more than their conclusions.

And keep in mind, buy it from Amazon and if it doesn’t meet your expectations the return is as easy a printing a return label with the click of a button and dropping it at the post office.

WD TV Live Plus

WD TV Live Plus

Originally posted 2010-10-16 02:00:43.

Google Music – Release

Back on the 17th of November Google announced the generally availability of Google Music…

We’re excited to announce that Music Beta by Google is officially graduating from beta today! Google Music will remain a free service, and you can continue to store up to 20,000 songs in your personal music library.

As well as an updated terms of service, and a music store (that works via Android Market).

The terms of service clarifies that each individual uploads and maintains his individual copy of a music file (unlike Apple’s service which may well substitute your copy with one from the iTunes store).

And while I think Google Music is a great value (it’s free), I think it might still be a little buggy…

My music library has in excess of 30,000 MP3 files, and while I understand that Google will not upload all of them, and that I might not be able to control exactly which 20,000 songs they upload without creating a copy of the songs I have in a separate directory structure, I’m at a loss as to why I only have 19,088 from my collection uploaded — and the error I see in the load is “too many files in account”…

While I wouldn’t have been shocked if I got 19,999 songs uploaded, it seem to me that there’s definitely a deficiency in Google’s uploader and it’s logic for determining when you’ve reached 20,000 songs in your library.

Like I said, I think the Google Music service is a good value; but it does lack the ability to use it as a “backup” of your music library (there’s really no facility to retrieve the music you upload, other than the very painful, manual effort you’d have to put into retrieving files from the cache it builds as you play them and renaming them).

An alternative is the Amazon Music service; they only provide 5GB free, but for a modest yearly payment they do allow unlimited (Google hasn’t even set pricing for raising the limit on their service); and with both the song you purchase don’t count toward your limit.  The upside of the Amazon service is that it does work nicely as a backup; you can retrieve the music you upload.

For the time being, I’ll use the Google Service; but my guess is that I’ll just migrate to Amazon if Google doesn’t really focus on making the service work correctly, and provide for additional storage.

Originally posted 2011-11-25 02:00:48.

Microsoft Virtual Server and Virtual PC Windows Guest Optimization

Keeping a Windows virtual machine running well using a Microsoft virtualization system is fairly simple, and here are the best practices that I’ve come up with (through trial and error and reading).

First, if you use Virtual Server rather than Virtual PC make sure you’re using SCSI disks, and regardless, always try to use the most current virtual tools in your guest.

Second, if you use dynamically expanding disks you need to compact them occasionally to decrease the size; you might as well defrag them in the guest before doing the compact and clean off unnecessary files as well; and if you have the time, defragment the host as well.  The reason for keeping the dynamically expanding disks as small as possible is caching and head travel — small is good.

Third, if you’re running something like SQL server inside a virtual machine, or software that tends to grow and shrink the store, consider using a pre-allocated disk rather than a dynamic one, it will probably be much better in the long run.

 

Now, here are a few of the “tools” I use to make my life easy.  first, I create a batch file that contains:

  1. if EXIST “C:\Program Files\OO Software\Defrag Professional\oodcmd.exe” set oodcmd=”C:\Program Files\OO Software\Defrag Professional\oodcmd.exe”
  2. if EXIST “C:\Program Files\OO Software\Defrag Server\oodcmd.exe” set oodcmd=”C:\Program Files\OO Software\Defrag Server\oodcmd.exe”
  3. REM Disk Clean
  4. regedit /S cleanmgr-0666.reg
  5. start /WAIT cleanmgr /sagerun:666
  6. REM Defrag
  7. %oodcmd% /COMPMOD:ALL
  8. REM pre-compactor
  9. precompact -silent
  10. REM shutdown
  11. shutdown /f /s /t

I use O&O Software’s OODefrag to defragment my disks; some of my machines have the professional version installed, and some have the server version installed; so lines 1 & 2 just figures out which of the versions is installed.

Line 4 setups up for calling the disk cleaner manager, because Microsoft really didn’t create a very good command line interface to it, you have to write a job detail into the registry.  You actually only need do it once, but rather than see if it’s there, I just write the “current” version to it.  666 is an arbitrary choice of labels.  I put a copy of what’s in the reg file at the end of the post, use MSDN to decipher it.

Line 5 invokes the disk cleaner manager with the job that was setup in line 4.

Line 7 defragments all the drives.

Line 9 invokes the precompactor (comes with virtual server, but works for virtual pc as well).

Line 11 shutsdown the system.

After the system is shut down, you need to run the compactor from the host, you can invoke that with Virtual Server with a script, or through the web interface (inspect disk); with Virtual PC you’ll need to do that with the virtual disk wizard.

After the compactor is finished, consider defragmenting your host disk (at least occassionally).

I actually have permutations of this procedure for use with Parallels and VMware.  Both Parallels and VMware have an interface for this, but it really doesn’t do that great of a job in the guest, so you can definitely improve on it by doing the same procedures I do for the Microsoft products before calling their “built in” functions.

 

If you use UNDO disks and always throw away your changes, you only need to do this procedure once (with UNDO turned off), degragment the host files, then enable UNDO.  Since the base disks never change (until you need to apply service packs, patches, etc), you never need to worry about cleanup.  But don’t let UNDO disk change sets grow extremely large or your performance will suffer.

One more word of advice, if you copy your virtual machines (and this is true of any of the virtualization systems), make sure you allow the virtualization software to create a new descriptor file (to avoid MAC address duplication, though Virtual Server can handle this), and make sure you run NewSid.exe (or a similar program) in a Windows host to change it’s name and security identifier.

________________________________________

cleanmgr-0666-reg

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches] [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Active Setup Temp Folders] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Compress old files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000000

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Content Indexer Cleaner] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000000

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Downloaded Program Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Internet Cache Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Memory Dump Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Microsoft_Event_Reporting_2.0_Temp_Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Old ChkDsk Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Recycle Bin] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Remote Desktop Cache Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Setup Log Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Temporary Files] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\WebClient and WebPublisher Cache] “StateFlags0666″=dword:00000002

 

Originally posted 2008-05-18 20:46:42.

USB Hard Drive Adapters

 Everyone’s making them and they come in really handy…

 Basically they’re devices you can use to access a bare hard drive.  Most of them supports PATA and SATA 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives (though some vendors require a bunch of adapters to do it).  The APRICORN DriveWire unit is clean and simple and priced around $30 (use a price search engine) or less.

I was so happy to find these units that I purchased two of them and gave away my previous ones made by another vendor.

If you’re going to routinely swap drives on and off a computer, and don’t want to spring for an external case you might be better off with a hard drive dock also available for about $30, but they don’t support PATA (PATA is not hot swapable).

If you’re going to use these units to upgrade a computer’s hard drive, remember Acronis TrueImage is a great tool (you can find shareware and OpenSource tools as well — but TrueImage is well worth the price and has many additional features that you’ll likely find useful).


APRICORN: DriveWire – Universal Hard Drive Adapter

Originally posted 2008-12-29 12:00:32.

Upgrading Drive Firmware

First, if you’re not having problems with your drive (unless it’s brand new, has no data on it, and you don’t have an issue returning it to the place of purchase or manufacturer) DO NOT DO IT.

Second, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, don’t try and do it quickly, or in between other commitments.  Do it when it’s quiet.  Make sure you have a UPS on your computer and that the weather is clear (so that there’s no likelihood of power outages).

Third, run the drive diagnostics from the manufacturer first.  If the drive shows it’s having problems — return it to the manufacturer for replacement (most manufacturers will do advance replacement at no charge with a credit card; that gives you a drive to migrate your data onto, and a shipping container to return the failing drive in).

Fourth, many manufacturers support upgrading firmware directly from Windows (a few from other operating systems).  I high recommend you choose the bootable CD approach — that way there’s no question whether or not you have something installed on your computer that might interfere.  And if you’re using SATA I recommend you set your computer to SATA IDE/Legacy mode to insure that the upgrade (and diagnostics) don’t have any issues with your SATA controller (IDE/Legacy as opposed to SATA/Native, SATA/RAID, SATA/AHCI — different BIOS manufacturers will call it by a different term, but it’s the lowest setting for the controller, likely it’s what the default was).

Fifth, make sure you obtain the firmware update only from the manufacturer’s web site; and make sure that it is for your drive; and that it’s recommended as a general installation or specifically addresses an issue you’re having.

Sixth, make sure you read and follow the manufacturer’s procedure for updating firmware.

Seventh, power off your drive before you attempt to use it after updating the firmware.  Most drives will not use the newer firmware until they are power-cycled; some drives just flat out won’t work until they’ve been “hard reset”.

Hopefully all goes well, but many drives become a brick if your firmware upgrade fails; a few can revert to the previous firmware and keep on running.  If you have problems, contact the manufacturer, most drives under warranty can be replaced — but data recovery is not included.

NOTE:

Upgrading drive firmware may also change the first several sectors of the drive; I highly recommend that you backup the drive before upgrading the firmware.

Originally posted 2010-02-09 01:00:56.

Computer Tid Bits

I haven’t sent one of these tid bit emails out in a long long time — this is just a collection of little points that you might find comes in handy.

Server 2008 is indeed out and available. I think I’m going to wait a few months (and I’m just about out of funds for MSFT store purchase, so doubtful I can get a copy for anyone else — I’ll probably do the MSDN OS subscription again). Hyper-V has not shipped as of yet.

Service Pack 1 for Vista can be downloaded or you’ll get it from Windows Update. If you’re updating more than a single machine, download the whole thing (Windows Update will swamp your connection). There are separate packs for 32-bit and 64-bit (you may need both if you have both machines). Also, copy the update file to the local disk (it will need elevated privileges to install).

Virtual Server 2005 R2 can be installed on XP, XP-64, Vista-32, or Vista-64. The management interface requires IIS, so that’s a little different with PWS version on non-server platforms. If you have VS installed on a server, you should be able to manage _all_ of your installations from one management interface (though Vista doesn’t make that easy).

Google GMail allows you to host your domains for email there for free… you basically get GMail accounts in your own domain. I’ve moved my mail services over there for the time being (I still archive all my email on my own server at home, but the active send/receive is done via GMail).

Parallels is coming out with a new server (64 & 32 bit) to compete with Hyper-V; I looked at the beta (definitely a beta, but useable), they may be able to get some of the market share — but my guess is they’ll get the share from VMware (I didn’t care for the Mac-ish look of the product on Windows).

2.5″ SATA disk drives continue to fall in price; Seagate 250GB drives were $104 @ Fry’s, and they still had some on the shelf on Monday!!!

Intel hasn’t release the most of the 45nm processor family yet; the older Core2 dual and quad processor continue to be a great buy. Remember that really none of the current Intel chip sets take advantage of the higher transfers the newer processors are capable of (well the X38, but that’s supposed to have major issues) — so you might want to wait for the next generation of Intel chips and motherboards to hit the market. FYI: Intel delayed the release because AMD missed their ship dates… their new cores had some rather serious flaws

Notebook and desktop memory are nearly on par with each other. You can purchase 2 x 2GB for under $100 (easily — even the really fast memory). $60 is actually the low price and $80 get’s you high quality with heat spreaders (notebook memory doesn’t have heat spreaders — no room). 2 x 1GB can be purchased for $40!!!

Originally posted 2008-04-01 12:58:23.