Entries Tagged as 'Hardware'

$35 Tablet PC

The government of India has unveiled a $35 tablet PC that they intend to use to replace text books in India.

The Laptop Per Child project (OLPC) developed a $200 durable notebook prototype in 2005 that’s designed use in schools in developing country and has plans for a $100 tablet.

India, though, has created a computing device that costs less than most text books, and the government will further subsidize the cost.

In a country where electricity is a scarce commodity in many regions (the tablets will have a solar power option for use in rural areas) they seem to have a much better grasp on the concept of leaving no child behind and creating a technologically empowered generation ready to perform the jobs of tomorrow.

The US leaves no child behind by simply holding everyone back to the level of the underachiever — easy to understand why we’re becoming a third world nation.

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.

Kingston Counterfeits

Around the end of last November I ordered a Kingston DataTraveler 150 32 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive (DT150/32GB Orange/Black).  When it came in it seemed to work, and I didn’t really think anything of it, but when I started to try and copy large files to it, or put a significant amount of information on it (which actually wasn’t until around the first of this year) I continually had issues with it.

I contacted Kingston the first week of March to try and get a handle on the problem or an RMA to return it for a replacement.  Kingston then requested that I send them some identifying markings from the metal USB plug — well my unit didn’t have any of those identifying markings, and since those marking would have been covered by the cap I couldn’t have told whether a new product I was interested in purchasing had them or not without opening the package in the store and taking off the cap (and of course mail order there’s no way to do it).

What was really alarming is I had a few other Kingston USB flash drives, and I took a look at them — they also didn’t have any markings on them.  So from that I would have to conclude either Kingston just implemented this and the units I have are from before that time, or all the units I have are counterfeit.  The truly alarming thing is I’m 99.9% positive that all of these units came from Fry’s Electronics, Microcenter, and Amazon.

This indicates to me that there’s a severe problem with the distribution channel of Kingston products, and that the Kingston name brand (and the Kingston warranty) is worthless.  Which means, the purchase of Kingston products should be avoided since they are frequently counterfeited and Kingston appears to be only interested in protecting themselves, not the consumers of their products (since consumers really have no way of knowing if a product is counterfeit).

As Nancy used to say “JUST SAY NO” to Kingston products.

Kingston DataTraveler 150 - 32 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive

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.

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

 

Seagate Firmware Issues

If you own a Seagate hard drive in the Baracuda 7200.11, or Barracuda ES.2 (SATA only), or Maxtor DiamondMax 22 series you might want to read on…

Seagate has confirmed that a number of issues customers have been seeing in 500GB, 750GB, 1TB, and 1.5TB drives is because of an issue with firmware (it also affects other drives, but apparently is seen most often in the “larger” drives).

There have been a number of write ups on the internet about this problem, and Seagate released firmware SD17 in December 2008 which they believed fixed the problems; and then SD1A in January 2009 which again they believed fixed the problems; but reports indicated that these firmware revisions may actually create one of the very problems Seagate is attempting to address.

The firmware issues can adversely effect the drives performance or it can render the drive totally useless (brick mode).

In an effort to prevent worse PR than Seagate is already suffering for this problem, they have stepped forward to assure everyone that they are working on the issues, that the drives have five year warranties (three for Maxtor), and that they will pay the costs for data recovery service if the drive bricks and cannot be used.

I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone that Seagate is a California based company; and California has a “lemon law” and fairly strict consumer protection when a vendor advertises products that are supposed to have some feature and fail to deliver on that promise.  It’s unlikely Seagate will allow this problem to spin out of control, the financial liability is simply too high for them (we’re talking about potentially being forced to repurchase almost every drive they’ve sold for the past three years AT THE PRICE THE CONSUMER PAID for it if they don’t fix the problem soon.

You can view more details in the knowledge base article below, and subscribe to updates.  You can also view many rants on these issues by doing a web search.

Promise NS4300N NAS (Update)

Looks like Promise has “fixed” the issue with Seagate 1.5TB drives in the NS4300N NAS…

They’ve replaced Compatibility List NS4300N_SR5_Compatibility_List_v1.0-20081031.pdf with NS4300N_SR5_Compatibility_List_v1.0-20081126.pdf on their support web site — the never revisions of the V1.0 Compatibility List omits the Seagate 1.5TB drive (interesting that they choose to call it V1.0 rather than V1.1 and remove the previous V1.0 list from their web page)… but the firmware release notes still contains the statement that they’ve added support for 1.5TB drives (the only 1.5TB drive I know of is the Seagate).

Promise’s actions are a little suspect… maybe it’s time for a trip over to Alameda’s Small Claims Court…  I’ve retained copies of both versions of the compatibility list as well as the firmware release notes.

And for the record, I have still yet to receive any update to my online support inquiry even though I’ve updated it a number of times with “additional” comments and information; and I’ve called Promise as well.

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”.

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

Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008 with GPS and Connected Services

I picked up a copy of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008 with GPS and Connected Services; basically the package includes the same Pharos (re-branded) GPS module that Microsoft has been using along with a Pharos (re-branded) FM side-band receiver (similar technology as to what you can get on a number of all-in-one GPS units that provide real time data).

I haven’t tried all the wizzy new features for real yet, but in service areas I should be able to get real time data on traffic, construction, gas prices, weather, etc… the real question is how well S&T uses that data to auto-magically re-route.

I have a Pharos all-in-one GPS-150 receivers that’s a nice little unit, but it’s difficult to enter address information (there is not a sync to the PC option), and it doesn’t get real time data feeds. The Pharos all-in-one uses their Ostia software rather than Streets and Trips; but you can hack Tom-Tom PDA software to run quite nicely on it (the problem is getting the maps).

__________

A bit of trivia for those that don’t know the connection between the word “Pharos” and mapping / navigation. Pharos was the name of the light house at Alexandria, Egypt. And “Ostia” was the ancient port of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber river.