Entries Tagged as 'Hardware'

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.

Tablet Wars

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Not really — and it doesn’t have much impact without a score playing — but, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Apple iPad appears to have sparked an all out battle for control of the tablet market.

A number of “new” tablets (and tablet prototypes) are being shown, some with a price tag as low as $199!!!

Maybe the competitors won’t be quite as “slick” as Apple’s iPad, but they’re all guaranteed to be more powerful, more affordable, and more open.

Freescale 7′ Tablet $199

ODROID Tablet

EAFT Magic Tile and Compal Tablets

ICD Tegra 2 Tablet

Originally posted 2010-05-06 02:00:15.

Color Nook

Barnes and Nobel showed it’s color Nook Tuesday in San Francisco – the press seems to like it; 15.8 oz, 7” screen, 8GB storage (plus uSD slot), WiFi, uUSB power, Android based…  available for pre-order on 19 Nov.

Not clear that you have access to Android marketplace, but it sounds like it (since there were references to installing games and such on it)… this could be real competition for the iPad (and the Kindle).

Barnes & Noble Nook

Originally posted 2010-10-26 20:00:42.

Vista Activation

Over the past couple weeks I’ve had to “reactivate” two copies of Vista; now I did update the video cards and the optical drive (which is likely what triggered it), but interestingly enough, these are the two oldest copies of Vista (the first two computers installed with it).

It’s not difficult…

You try the online activation, it fails.

You call the automated telephone activation system, it fails.

You request a transfer to a Microsoft activation specialist, you read them the codes, answer a couple simple questions, and they give you the activation code which you type in and then you’ve activated.

Hopefully my activation is good for another twenty months (or more)!

NOTE:  While I’m sure that changing the hardware triggered this, I suspect that Microsoft has implemented a more rigorous inspection of the computer fingerprint to defeat bulk copies of Vista by questionable computer manufactures.

Originally posted 2008-12-28 12:00:06.

Quiet And Cool Computers

The last two iterations of computers I build were intended to be quiet and cool…

Like so many things about computers, keeping them quiet and cool requires maintenance.

Remember that saying “Cleanliness is next to godliness”?  Well — cleanliness definitely determines how quiet and cool your computer will be!

Dust and particulates are everywhere; and while a whole house air filter will help reduce the amount in the air, pets and open windows are going to increase it.  And unfortunately, dust restricts airflow and is a fair thermal insulator.

I recommend that twice a year you open up your computer and “dust” the inside — that can be done very carefully with a flux brush (or art type brush with natural fiber bristles) and a vacuum cleaner.  The insides of your computer are delicate, but certainly it’s fine to clean them.  Any fine fins or grates you can use the brush to break the dust free, and the vacuum to get it away from the inside of the computer.

After you clean your computer you will probably notice that the fans make a lot less noise, which means your computer is running quieter and cooler.

Originally posted 2008-08-25 21:53:00.

IPTV

IPTV has come a long way since the early 90’s and for most of the nation we’re on the edge of an era where digital entertainment in the home will be carried throughout our home (and enter our home) over a conventional data network.

At the moment, most media player devices are vendor specific in what they will do (ie, the U-Verse set-top box is an IPTV device, but is very limited in what it provides beyond allowing a consumer access to the U-Verse servers) — though there are some general purpose devices.

Sure, you can attach a Media PC or Home Entertainment PC, a XBox 360, a PS3, or a Wii to your entertainment system and use it as a somewhat general purpose media player — but it’s not really designed to provide a good user experience for media (they’re intended for general computing or gaming) – or you can purchase one of a growing number of media devices that are being offered that are targeted specifically to provide for a reasonably good consumer experience.

There are also a number of BluRay players that have media player capabilities — but since I consider BluRay a dying media format (and have since the day the format wars were decided) — I see no reason to invest in a player that’s likely to go the way of the 8-track; nor do I see a reason to pay for over priced discs (particularly when I already own a license for the material in another format, and no longer subscribe to making the MPAA richer when they offer me nothing).

There are also a number of display panels that have media player capabilities — but you’re going to find that the display panels that use the best display technology don’t contain the wizzy features to allow for streaming media. So my advice, is buy a solid panel and just realize that you’re going to have an external box (I don’t know of anyone who’s built a cable-card type module for IPTV at the consumer level let).

That leaves us with just the stand along devices — and if you decide that NetFlix is an absolute requirement you come down to three devices currently: Roku Streaming Player; Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player; and Western Digital TV Live Plus HD Media Player.

For my money the Roku is a joke — and I’m just going to pass right over it since I’ve already given it more attention than it deserves.

Both the Seagate and the Western Digital devices look like they have potential (note, only the WDBABX0000NBK is worth considering, the other models are in the same bucket as the Roku)/

The WD TV Live Plus; however, specifically supports the “play to” feature of Windows Media Player — which means you should be able to play any content on the device that you can play on a Windows 7 machine… which opens you up to a much larger potential source for entertainment.

Let me be clear at this point that I haven’t tried any of these devices for myself — I’m just in the phase of trying to figure out which would be worth my time to look at… once I have a device (and hopefully I’ll be happy with the first I get) I’ll write up a detailed post on the feature set — if you’re in a hurry, just read over the capabilities of each of the possibilities and decide what features you have to have to eliminate the number of possibilities down; and before you do that, if you haven’t looked at the value of the NetFlix streaming feature — acquaint yourself with that, and you too will likely consider it a “must have”.

Originally posted 2010-08-03 02:00:49.

ASUS Eee PC

ASUS has release a series of “thin client” devices that they call the Eee PC, it comes in three basic models (the Eee PC Surf and Eee PC look identical, but the Surf versions apparently aren’t easily upgraded; and then there’s the Eee PC 900 which has a larger display).

The Eee PC Surf is available with either 2GB or 4GB; the Eee PC is available with either 4GB or 8GB — both have a 7″ screen.

The Eee 900 is available with either 12GB (Linux) or 20GB (Windows) and has a 8.9″ screen.

All of the use Intel processors… for more information just go to ASUS, and I’ll save you the pain of going through their cute presentation:

Eee PC  Eee PC Surf & Eee PC

Eee PC 900  Eee PC 900

Originally posted 2008-05-18 21:41:35.

Vantec Quality

Before I left San Francisco I purchased six Vantec cases.

Two 5.25″ external USB2.0 cases for Blu-Ray ROM devices; and four 2.5″ external USB2.0 cases to put 500GB hard drives in.

I already had the Blu-Ray ROM drives and set out to put those in the cases right when I got them home from Central Computer, but I quickly found out that neither of the cases had the holes tapped for the bolts that held the case closed (and interesting enough, Vantec doesn’t shipped the cases closed up like most vendors).

It was a nightmare trying to deal with Vantec; they sent me two sets of bolts — they just never really could grasp the fact that the cases weren’t tapped — the screws were probably the right ones.  And even worse I’d already exchanged them once (and the second two cases also weren’t tapped).

Anyway, I gave up on trying to get satisfaction and just used some nylon fasteners that I had that seemed to do the job reasonably well — but of course the large white nylon fasteners sticking out the back of a black case was far from attractive.

The 2.5″ cases I packed away and didn’t need those (I actually had some SATA/USB2.0 cases that I was using at that point — but wasn’t willing to pay the ridiculous price to get more of those).

Last week, though, I ordered a couple 500GB Seagate drives on sale.  They arrived yesterday and I went to put them in the cases… The first package had the screw packet and worked great.  The second package didn’t have any screws and had a defect on the finish on the enclosure.  The third and fourth packages had no screws either.  So out of four drives only one had screws — and the screws are a small metric thread (and fairly long with a small diameter head) that I have nothing like.

I contacted Vantec; already knowing what they’d say… so once I dig up my receipt and send it to them I’m sure the fun will start again; the good news is I know that these cases are tapped (since I have two screws I tested all the cases).

It seems to me that Vantec has some rather severe quality issues; and simple things like insuring screws in the package that fit would be resolved by closing the case before packing and shipping it… obviously they want to save a nickle or so — and cost their customers hundreds of dollars in wasted time.

So I’ll not be purchasing any products from Vantec mail order for sure; and if I want to chance it, I’ll open up and inspect the item BEFORE leaving the store.

Originally posted 2010-01-30 01:00:58.

Netbook

I purchased a MSI Wind U100 a couple weeks ago for an “on-the-go” computer.

At $299 plus $99 for a 2.5″ SATA2 500GB Seagate hard drive and $15 for an additional 1GB of DDR2 it’s a fairly economical solution to use to browse the web on the go, send/receive email, mapping, GPS, music and videos, contacts, date book, etc.

I looked at all the options, but I choose this one because I wanted 2GB of memory (most of them come with only 512MB built in so you can only have 1.5GB total and a couple only allow 1GB total).

The Atom N270 processor is by no means a top performer, but it does a fairly good job and mine is running Vista Home Premium with no issues at all (it ships with Windows XP Home).

The only thing I dislike about it is the fact that the keyboard is so small; but if you want a small notebook you’re going to have to live with a small keyboard!

No one computer is right for everyone, so you’ll have to decide what’s right for your particular needs, what your intended use is, and your budget.  There are actually models of netbooks you can purchase with an AT&T wireless modem installed for $99 (of course you have a two year contract your saddled with).

Bigger than a PDA, but far more flexible!

Originally posted 2008-12-27 12:00:21.

Online Capacity Expansion

Well…

  • Call me old fashion…
  • Call me conservative…
  • Call me a doubting “Thomas”…
  • Call me tickled pink…
  • Call me surprised…

I just finished adding four additional spindles to one of my virtual hosts; when I originally built it out I only had four spindles available, and didn’t want to buy more since I knew I would be freeing up smaller spindles for it soon.

The first task was to have the RAID software add the new spindles to the array, then to “expand” the array container… the first step took only a few moments, the second step took about 20 hours for the array controller to rebuild / expand the array.

The second task was to get Windows to actually use the added space by expanding the volume; to do that was a simple matter of using diskpart.exe (you can search Microsoft’s Knowledge Base) only took a few moments.

The incredible thing about this was that my virtual host and virtual machines was online for the entire 20 hours — with absolutely no service interruption.

This particular machine used a Dell / LSI controller; but the Promise controllers also support dynamic capacity expansion as do 3Ware controllers.  I believe the Intel Matrix pseudo RAID controller also support dynamic capacity expansion; but as with other RAID and pseudo-RAID controllers you should check the documentation specific to it and consult the manufacturer’s web site for errata and updates before proceeding.

The bottom line is Windows and RAID arrays have come a long way, and it’s quite possible that you will be able to expand the capacity of your array without taking your server down; however, if the data on the server is irreplaceable, I recommend you consider backing it up (at least the irreplaceable data).

Originally posted 2008-12-01 12:00:56.