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Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Blog, Computer Hardware, Computer Tips | 5 comments

The best remote for a HTPC

I’ve mentioned in the past that I use a HTPC (Home Theater PC) for streaming movies from my local network (a network share on a Windows server) to my TV.  There has been a huge amount of streaming boxes hit the market lately and I’ve tried many of them.  I use a Roku 3 for most Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Pandora activitiy.  When it comes to streaming local content XBMC is hands down the best (see my previous post about using it with Windows 8).  I do have Plex on my Roku and the server piece on a server where I store my videos.  Plex works well and is on all platforms.  I just like playing the native video file as it is and not have to transcode to a client.   I also just really like the interface of XBMC.  I had hoped the port of XBMC to the Ouya would possibly replace my HTPC but I don’t think it’s been released yet and I’m not super optimistic that it will be as nice and fluid.  So my Ouya sits mostly untouched for now.

To this end I’ve been on a never ending quest to find the right remote control for my HTPC.  I’ve tried many different remotes.  The one that came the closest but still wasn’t quite there was the Logitech diNovo (goofy name) mini PC entertainment keyboard.

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It’s actually a very nice keyboard and remote but it’s a bit awkward, somewhat overpriced and I never got really comfortable using it.  Before this I used a remote from nMediaPC.

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It worked well most of the time but didn’t have an integrated keyboard.  It came with a normal sized wireless keyboard that was too big and bulky.  It didn’t take long for the trackball mouse to start acting up.
Before this I had also tried the Rii Mini Keyboard with touch pad.

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This one was not bad.  The keyboard worked well though the touch pad could be a bit sensative.  It was backlit and is a good price on Amazon.  My problem with this one was battery life and it was a bit awkward in the hand.  It seemed like the battery was dead every time I picked it up, especially after sitting for a week or so unused.  It’s also not really a one handed remote which I prefer.  I also tended to have some sticking keys sometimes.

Before that one there were many more.  I like experimenting and the old devices tucked away in my closets show this.  I could probably dig up and photograph 5 or 6 more remotes but I won’t bore you with that.

So, my current and so far favorite HTPC remote?
It’s the MCE Remote Control by Feilan.
I purchased it from Amazon for about $26.

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The remote has a keyboard integrated into it.  A trackball (kind of small) for mouse activities.  This also is a learning universal remote so I’ve programmed some of the buttons to turn on my TV and home theater systems.
The remote is nice to hold in the hand and isn’t cheap feeling like some I’ve used.  The keys all work well, though there’s a few that are too close to other keys like the left and right cursor.  The battery life is great.  It has zoom in and out buttons which are nice for browsing the web.  The ctrl-alt-del function is a nice touch for those times Windows or an application isn’t acting right.  The play, volume and other buttons work well with XBMC.  The instructions that came with it are pretty sparse (poorly translated from Chinese) and there’s no real online help.    I’ve tested and used the remote with both Windows 7 and 8.  Overall it’s a great remote and I don’t plan on looking for a replacement just yet.  I’ve had the remote for about 6 months and it’s performance has been reliable and consistent.  I did notice on the Feilan website there’s another version (actually several versions that all look very similar) of the remote that has back lighting that would be nice but I haven’t found anywhere to buy it just yet.  That would be the only reason right now to replace it.

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Posted by on Jan 11, 2012 in Blog, Computer Hardware, Product Reviews | 3 comments

Transformer Prime tablet review

I’ve been an iPad user from the beginning. I had used an iPhone for awhile before the iPad came out and quickly realized that iOS would be great on a tablet. I pre-ordered the iPad and have been using one ever since. It’s the form factor that I’ve wanted for years. I had tried multiple Windows based tablets but they never performed very well. They had either bad battery life or bad hardware design coupled with the fact that full blown Windows (current versions and back) is not a viable tablet OS. Windows 8 looks to change that trend but that’s still to be seen.

I’ve tried Android a few times. I wanted to like it but never did. Especially not on a phone. The tablets up to this point were disappointments when compared to the iPad. The first Asus Transformer was a great piece of hardware but I still did not feel Android was well suited for a tablet. Don’t get me wrong, it worked as a tablet. I could read books, listen to music and surf the web. The experience paled in comparison to the iPad though.

I got my hands on the new Asus Transformer Prime and after a rocky start I am beginning to see a competitor to the iPad experience. My problems started right from the start. When you turn on the tablet for the first time you get the welcome and initial setup screens. On the third or so screen I began experiencing crashes of DMClient (still not sure what it is). I did a few factory resets with no luck in getting it to run stable. I also was having Wifi issues. Some sites wouldn’t let me login, some apps wouldn’t work at all and overall just weirdness.

I tried to get it to update but that caused more crashes. After downloading the latest firmware (prior to 4.0′s release) and several reboots it was updated but still crashed and had spotty Wifi. That same night Asus released 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) 2 or 3 days early. I couldn’t get it to update and went to bed frustrated and decided to return it the next day. The next morning I figured I’d give it one more try. I found some instructions that had me go to the applications app, delete data from the DMClient service, force it to stop and then rebooted. On reboot I was able to check for an update and got it installed. Right from the first boot of 4.0 I could tell it was doing better and the device has run perfect ever since.
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Hardware:
The hardware of the Transformer Prime is nice. Just like it’s previous version it’s well made and solid. Every time I pick it up I’m reminded of how cool it is. The dimensions of this version are better in my opinion. I found the original Transformer to be awkward to hold. I also purchased the keyboard dock and have to say that it is awesome. I’ve used a keyboard a few times with the iPad and it was never really of much use to me. This keyboard dock is very well integrated with the tablet and it adds to the tablet in many ways (typing, battery life, touch pad, SD card slot and USB port). I can’t speak to the cameras (front and rear) because I haven’t used them nor will I most likely. I never used it on the iPad (not just because they weren’t very good). I can see using them for something like Skype but I just don’t currently have the need. This tablet is almost identical in thickness between it and the iPad 2, but it seems to weigh less. I tend to be sensitive to heat. I can’t take laptops where the wrist rest area gets hot on one side or the other. I’m happy to say the Transformer Prime hasn’t had any heat issues. I haven’t had time to watch a movie on it or play an intense game on it for a period of time to see if it warms up any.

Android 4.0:
Apples’s iPad and iOS has been the king of the tablet market for two years now. I’ve tried to like Android for awhile but never felt it met the experience of the iPad. I still prefer Windows Phone on my smartphone but Android 4.0 has reached a level that I can feel confident in using on a regular basis. The updates to 4.0 are mostly small things but they add up to a much more pleasurable user experience. The first thing I noticed was the font used through out the system it’s a fantastic standardization that Microsoft learned to do with it’s Metro UI. The other updates are welcome polishes as well such as the updated settings area. I’m still confused by the quality of the built in web browser though. Web browsing is one of the key uses for a tablet and the stock browser is not very good. Luckily there are many other browsers to choose from in the marketplace and I particularly like the Dolphin browser. The gesture functionality of Dolphin is really cool. One aspect to Android still puzzles me and that’s the multi-tasking. I’m still not sure what exactly is left running in the background and what isn’t. It seems like there is a performance hit after using Android for several hours and I feel the need to go use a task killer application to make sure other apps are shut down. I need to spend some more time in understanding and controlling the background services and apps. The lack of polish and maturity of the apps for Android was another reason I avoided it. They always seemed like they didn’t get nearly as much attention as their iOS counterparts. Apps like Dropbox, Facebook, WordPress, Kindle, Amazon and others are at a much higher quality and offer the same or better experience than on iOS.
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Keyboard dock:
I’ve used a keyboard dock with the iPad and it seemed like all it did was give me a physical keyboard. It was and afterthought. This keyboard dock adds much to the functionality of the device. It give extra battery life, a USB port (so far all I’ve connected is a mouse, both wired and wireless), an SD Card slot and a touchpad. The mouse/touchpad was a surprising touch that works much better than I expected. When you use the touchpad or a mouse you get an actual mouse cursor which makes certain functions much easier. When the tablet is docked into the keyboard and it’s shut it looks and feels like a very thin high quality netbook but functions much better than any netbook I’ve ever used. The other thing the keyboard dock has done is made me realize that I need touchscreen capabilities on my Windows laptop..now. I never thought I’d want to reach up and touch the screen on my laptop but I do it a lot on this and love the added input capability. I’m sure it will be commonplace in a few years after Windows 8 comes out and I can’t wait.

Conclusion:
Like I said I had a bit of a rocky start to the Transformer Prime. It was a frustrating experience and I can see several people returning the device before getting to a stable point of usability. I’ve been an avid iPad user since the first one launched. This version of Android brings me to a place where I am comfortable suggesting it as a viable tablet OS. The Kindle Fire is a great Android device meant for a different crowd then the Transformer Prime. The hardware has been good on the Android tablets for awhile. The first Transformer was a solid device. The Samsung Galaxy tabs are nice machines as well. The combination of the the Tegra 3 processor and Android 4.0 make this a very nice experience. In the past I’ve made an attempt to honestly use the other tablets and became frustrated very fast. The Transformer Prime is a fantastic tablet especially when you combine the keyboard dock. Although the price of the two together might turn away many people. Besides, I’m seriously attracted to the device because of the name. Even if they are getting sued for using it. The only other negative thing I’d mention is even between the time that I placed the order to when I received the Transformer Prime, Asus announced the next generation of Transformer Prime. So, of course, I already have a tablet that will be obsolete in a short period. The next generation is said to have a full 1080p resolution screen, a better Wifi antenna and a few other features. That’s the nature of technology these days though.

Updates:
1/12/2012 – I picked up the Transformer Prime today and felt something drop from my hand. Turns out it was my microSD card that I had in the slot on the side of the Transformer. The card sticks out just enough that it’s fairly easy to accidentally make it pop out of the slot. Luckily I felt it hit my had before it dropped to the floor. Since it’s a 64gb microSD card I’d have been quite disappointed to lose it.

1/20/2012 – I’ve used the Transformer Prime for the past week and a half and have to say I’m loving it. Like I said in the post, I’ve been a die hard iPad user since they came out and I haven’t missed the iPad the whole time. I’ve read books (or more accurately one long book), surfed much of the internets, watched movies, written blog posts and more. The HDMI out works really well. It requires a micro HDMI to standard HDMI cable which I found cheap on Amazon.com. I’ve since found out there is HDMI (like on your TV), micro HDMI and mini HDMI. Loading up books, videos and music using the microSD card is awesome. That’s definitely one feature that the iPad cannot do. My gripes so far? The USB charging is annoying. You have to use the USB wall charger that came with the tablet and not just any USB wall charger. I’ve plugged in the USB cable to multiple (I have many of the things from various devices) USB wall chargers and none work to charge the device. That’s just silly. The GPS is flakey. This is acknowledged by Asus and is one of the primary reasons (from what I’ve read) that they are releasing a new version of the Transformer Prime in June or July. The aluminum body is causing it to not work very well (again from what I’ve read, I’m no GPS expert). Currently my device says I’m in Branson, MO which is a town about 45 minutes from where I’m sitting right now. Asus released a new firmware update yesterday that was supposed to help the GPS but it seems no different to me so far. I just turn off the GPS and location services, I’m not going to use it in my car for navigating. I have a dedicated GPS device for that anyways as well as my phone. Overall I’m liking the device a lot.

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Posted by on Jan 1, 2012 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

DD-WRT and Xbox not getting and IP address


After recently replacing my main router on my home network with a Cisco e4200 and updating it with DD-WRT, my xBox refused to get an IP address from the DHCP server. I could see the IP lease on the router and even after deleting the lease it would generate another lease. But the xBox itself would not use the IP address.
I noticed the default lease lifetime was set to 0 and thought I’d try changing it to something else for the heck of it. I set it to 1440 (which is 24 hours) and voila it worked. All other devices were functioning ok at 0, not sure why the Xbox didn’t like it. Oh well.

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Posted by on Dec 28, 2011 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 3 comments

AT&T U-verse with DD-WRT router in DMZ mode

I recently got AT&T’s U-verse service at home and have been enjoying it so far.  The internet has been working much better than my Mediacom service had been doing.  My only issue was that I wanted more control over the router and I wanted to setup VPN access into my home network.  So, I installed DD-WRT on my Cisco E4200 wireless access point/router then got the AT&T setup in DMZ mode to pass traffic to the E4200.

This setup was working great for almost all aspects except when I would VPN into work or even do a SSL remote desktop session outside my network.  After about 5 minutes the remote desktop session would become unresponsive and I’d have to reconnect.  This was driving me crazy because I couldn’t work for more than 5 minutes at a time.  I did a bit of Googling and found the answer on the following site:

http://www.comprepairgurus.com/att-u-verse2wire-gateway-and-dd-wrt-router-in-dmz-mode/

Basically, the DMZ mode on the AT&T router was causing the DD-WRT to renew it’s lease every 5 to 10 minutes.  The DHCP responses were being blocked by the DD-WRT firewall.
Adding the following command to the DD-WRT firewall fixed the problem and I haven’t had a remote desktop timeout since:

iptables -I INPUT -p udp –sport 67 –dport 68 -j ACCEPT

(Click the Administration tab, then Command tab.  Enter the above command in the text box and click Save Firewall then reboot.)

Be sure to check out the above website where I got the fix from.  They have a lot of tips and fixes for other issues as well.

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Posted by on Jul 16, 2009 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 9 comments

Asus T91 – First impressions and installing Windows 7

I’ve been playing with the new Asus T91 convertible netbook today. So far I’m liking it. It comes with some custom touch screen apps that are cute and all but I didn’t care for them much.

Here are some first impressions:

Dang this keyboard is small, but I’m getting used to it.
I don’t care much for the glossy finish, fingerprint city.
The touch screen is very responsive and accurate.
There’s more heat from the bottom of it than I expected since it’s a SSD drive.
Super quiet, not hardly any noise out it. Probably why I’m feeling as much heat as I am.
Dang this keyboard is small. I just deleted 2 sentences accidently.

There’s a lot of extra software, like Office trial, Microsoft works, skype and other crap. Though I guess everyone does that now.
The system is pretty responsive under both XP and Windows 7.
The swivel top is solid and turns smoothly.
Screen brightness and clarity are excellent, I haven’t tried it outside in sunlight yet.
The custom touch screen software (memos, foto fun and 3D interface) is cute and looks professional, but not something I’d use on a regular basis.
The 3D interface works well most of the time, a little laggy at times.

I’ve installed Windows 7 RC on it and everything is working so far. I have an unknown device in the device manager that I’ll have to figure out. The Asus drivers website doesn’t have Windows 7 as an option just yet for downloading drivers. The default install picked up the sound, wireless, nic etc. The video started out as standard vga and then updated to the Intel media accelerator 500 on it’s own.
The unknown device might be the bluetooth since I don’t see it anywhere, though it might be the camera too.
The unit came with a 16gb SD card which I wasn’t expecting.

I’ll update in a few days after I install some more stuff on it and experiment some more.

My main use for the device will be using it to connect into work and fix server and other network issues as well as reading eBooks, surfing the web, email and watching videos on it (curious to see how it handles videos).

Update 7/17/2009:
The unknown device ended up being ACPI. I tried the XP drivers which didn’t work and kept popping up an error. The next time I booted the machine Windows 7 popped up a message that said “There seems to be an issue with your power managment would you like to fix it?” Why yes, thanks. It then took had a link to an ACPI driver from Asus which downloaded and installed fixing this issue.
I streamed some TV shows (xvid AVI’s) across my network and watched them on the T91, they worked without a hitch. I haven’t tried Hulu or Netflix streaming just yet.
After installing the ACPI I now have an icon that let’s me change screen resolution and turn on or off the wireless and bluetooth. When I enabled the bluetooth it installed drivers. I haven’t tried any bluetooth devices on it yet.
The heat issue seems to be mostly when the power adapter is connected and it’s charging the battery. I used the machine to surf the web in the tablet position on battery power and it did get warm, but not as much as it did the night before when plugged in.

Update 7/25/09:
I’ve been using the T91 now off and on for a week and I really like this machine as an extra
super portable laptop. I still find myself going back to my main laptop (Lenovo T400, which
I love) for Photoshop editing, playing games (Command and Conquer, Far Cry 2) and a couple
of other apps that just are easier to use on a higher resolution.
I’ve installed a few smaller games (Pop cap stuff) and they ran just fine. I’m running those games from the SD Card. I tried Crayon Physics Deluxe (installed to the main ssd drive) and it choked on it even with the resolution down and in windowed mode.
Next I tried Quake 3 (running from the sd card) for kicks and it ran pretty good.
One weird issue i ran into is the Eee PC tray utility crashes from time to time. With this utility you change the screen resolution and turn on or off the wireless etc. I can’t get the button that’s on the monitor bezel to work in Windows 7 just yet. It’s supposed to be used to change the display from landscape to portrait. But you can use the Intel tool or the built in Windows mobility center.
As far as applications I’ve installed Photoshop 7 (figured it would run better and take up less space than CS4, plus I don’t need all of CS4 on here anyways), Open Office (where I’m typing this up). After installing these applications plus Windows I’ve got 5.3gb free on the C drive. On the E drive (the sd card) I have about 14gb free. I did also move the My Documents and My Music folders to the E drive.
I’d like to re-iterate one point, this keyboard is small. I’m getting better but the right shift key is trouble for me and I keep hitting the caps lock. For some reason I miss the space bar frequently.
The speed on the device is a bit slower than I expected compared to some of the netbooks I’ve used in the past but for the ways I’m using it it works well. I did turn off the themes in Windows 7 which helped a lot on the performance as well as going through and shutting down services that I don’t need. One other quirk that I’ve found is everytime I boot the machine the display brightness is lowered even though it’s plugged into the wall. It’s easily fixed by hitting fn & F4 but it’s kinda annoying.
Overall I’m really liking the machine.

Update 7/27/09:
I decided to re-install Windows 7 for the heck of it. The only drivers I installed this time was the Asus ACPI and the touchpad drivers. The only reason I install the touchpad driver is because without the driver and utility the vertical and horizontal scrolling by touching the edges of the touchpad don’t work. The install took about
I did find out one very useful thing from the Intel video utility. You can hit ctrl-alt and left, right up or down to quickly rotate the screen layout. Also the default Windows 7 webcam drivers work and I tested it with MSN messenger. I still need to try the Bluetooth.

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Posted by on Oct 8, 2008 in Blog, Computer Hardware, Miscellaneous | 0 comments

No more Mac


Well, the Mac only lasted 5 days in my hands.  I wanted to like the Mac.  I tried to like the Mac.  I don’t like the Mac.  The Mac OSX is a sharp operating system and it looks really nice.  It performed well and even running Windows Vista nativly on the Mac book was not a bad experience.  There’s just to many wierd nuances to use the Mac book as a Vista laptop, which is sad because they do make really well designed and sexy laptops!

In the end the wierd nuances pushed me to return the Mac and I’ve purchased a Lenovo Thinkpad instead.  I wanted to get another Sony, but they are way over priced.  I ended up with the Lenovo T400.  Not the sexiest laptop on the block, but it’s solid and performs exceptionally well.

In the end “I am a PC”.

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Posted by on Mar 8, 2007 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Microsoft Entertainment 7000 – The best keyboard ever built.

keyI’m a keyboard junkie. I don’t like using the same keyboard for very long. Up to this time my favorite was the Microsoft Ergonomic 4000. I’ve jumped back and forth from Microsoft Keyboards to Logitech Keyboards.

So, I’ve picked up Microsoft’s latest keyboard and I absolutely love it. I’ve always liked typing on laptops better than standard keyboards. I just like the feel of the keys on most laptops. If only the laptop’s keyboard was shaped more like the ergonomic type. The Microsoft Entertainment Desktop 7000 is, in my opinion, a combination of laptop keyboard with the ergonomic shape. However it does not share the shape of most ergonomic keyboards in that this one is flat and not raised. As a matter of fact it’s the flattest free standing keyboard I’ve ever used.

Add to this shape the fact that it’s wireless, has a built in touchpad (not your normal touchpad though), built in media player keys and comes with a wireless mouse. Now, I’ve never been to high on bluetooth keyboards and mice. My experience with them has never been overly positive, right up to recently when I tried Logitech’s Cordless Desktop MX. I quickly got rid of that because of general weirdness and connectivity issues. But so far the Microsoft 7000 has been painless. I’ve been using one at home as a replacement to the Microsoft Media Center keyboard and am lovin it there too!

At home I’ve been using it in conjunction with Vista Media Center and have had no troubles there either. The Media Center keyboard was IR based and I constantly had issues with the built in mouse not functioning smoothly. The shape of the Microsoft 7000 also lends itself to operating from a lap better than the Media Center keyboard as well.

One downfall, which I haven’t missed much, is the fact that the Microsoft 7000 doesn’t have a number pad. It does have a function key and like a laptop several of the right side keys double as number pad, but I haven’t figured out how to make the number pad part work without having to hold down the function key manually. It’s probably something I’m just not doing right, but I haven’t needed it enough to try and figure it out.

The mouse uses a standard AA rechargeable battery and has a small base to dock it with to recharge the battery. All of the wireless mice I’ve used are always too heavy compared to wired mice. This one is not as light as a wired mouse, but very close. It’s the first wireless mouse that I can use for an extended period of time and not notice the difference. The keyboard uses 4 standard AA batteries.

Overall I deem this keyboard the best one ever built! At least until the Microsoft Entertainment 8000 comes out, although it’s shape and design is just like the 7000 with some enhancements like backlit keys and rechargeable keyboard and a higher price of course!

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Posted by on Oct 30, 2006 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Sony Reader review

SonyI’ve longed for a way to read books on an electronic device for along time. I’ve tried reading on Tablet PC’s, Pocket PC’s, Palm Pilots, Notebooks and standard PC’s and have never been able to read a book for an extended period of time. The Sony Reader has changed this. I’ve been able to sit and read a couple of different books for several hours at a time and could read longer if I could just stay awake!

The screen looks great and the brighter the room light the better the screen looks. The lack of back light is a downfall in low light situations, but leaving out the back light is one of the reasons the battery lasts as long as it does and this I’m sure helps keep the cost down as well. At 6 inches the size of the screen seems perfect to me. The interface is a bit slow, but then again, the prime use of the device is to read books so the speed isn’t a concern to me. It has somewhere around 92mb of built in memory. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it actually turns out to be plenty. I’ve added a 2gb SD card as well, so I have more books on the thing, than I could read in a year and much space left over. Most of the books are going to be 2mb or less, mostly less. I’ve subscribed to some RSS feeds using the Sony software and many of those are 5mb or less.

The software for getting books on the device leaves a bit to be desired in my opinion. It’s not that straight forward and could use some improvements.

Sony’s website says the battery will last for 7500 page reads on one charge. I’ve read close to 200 pages of one book and 50 or so of another on one charge and the battery indicator hasn’t budged from showing full, so it looks like battery life will be a non issue. I don’t see myself sitting through 7500 pages in one sitting in this lifetime.

I haven’t tried the built in MP3 player, but I would think that would drop the battery life some at least. With my added 2 gig memory card, I have plenty of room to throw some good reading music on it. You can also put pictures on the device that look surprisingly good for being black and white or more like shades of grey.

One thing that Sony did do to offset the somewhat pricey device, was to give you a $50 credit to it’s online book store. With this $50 I bought three books and still have $15 left. The books I purchased are new books as well, so this was a nice addition. Buying books from within the software was a piece of cake as well. The price is a bit high at $349, but it does what it’s supposed to and does it well in my opinion.

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Posted by on Jun 1, 2006 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Samsung Q1 review

Q1We’ve had the Samsung Q1 for about a week now. It’s certainly an impressive machine. The price on it is far better than some of the other attempts at making a handheld PC (not Pocket PC or Windows CE). We purchased the unit for about $1050. The OQO is priced at around $1900 to $2000 and Sony’s Micro PC (they apparently don’t like the UMPC name) will be $1799.

I said a couple of days ago that the unit reminds me of a large PSP as far as the look and feel of the hardware. It’s quite comfortable to hold in my hand even while watching movies (or several episodes of Lost as I did). The screen is very nice and bright. I wish the resolution was higher. The native 800×480 is just not enough screen room sometimes even for normal Windows dialog boxes. But those clever guys at Samsung did add a button that allows you to up the resolution to 800×600 or even 1024×768 though it actually just scales the viewing area to be those resolutions so they don’t look as good as the native resolution. You don’t want to run it in those other resolutions on a normal basis but it certainly was helpful for situations where dialog boxes would go off the screen.

One of my complaints about the OQO was heat and while it does get a bit warm, it’s nothing near the heat generated by the OQO handheld. And the heat is situated in an area where you don’t normally put your hands so it’s not something you notice much at all.

Another complaint about the OQO was it’s use of the pen, though they have gone to Tablet PC version of Windows XP on the OQO so I can only assume it’s better than it was. The pen works well on the Samsung and the touch screen works great too. I’ve tried many different tablet PC’s and the lack of touch screen has always been a gripe of mine.

Q1

The system performed very well for being a Celeron processor. See the chart to the right for details on the specs.

I was excited about the screenshots I had seen with the circular on-screen keyboard. Typing on any sort of handheld whether it’s a Palm, Pocket PC, Tablet PC or UMPC has always been a pain in the neck. After using the on-screen keyboard I’m not as excited. I have to say that it is usable, it’s just not near as fast as I had hoped for. After typing on it for some time you can certainly get faster and it beats using a pen to punch on the standard on-screen keyboard that comes with Tablet PC’s.

So, after using the device I have to say it is a sharp machine with several uses. However, I have to wonder how many of these are really going to sell. It’s not a replacement for my laptop and it’s not a replacement for my Pocket PC. It does multimedia very well, but who’s going to buy it to watch movies? I think it would be a great purchase for someone who travels alot because you can watch movies, listen to music, play games and get on the internet using the wi-fi.Q1 But even in that situation the battery life isn’t the greatest. I think the longest I got out of it was about 2 hours. You can get a Sony PSP for a quarter of the price with a better battery life and do all of those things, though with a smaller screen.

I guess if you’ve got the money then go for it, it’s a great machine.

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Posted by on May 18, 2006 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Samsung Q1 first impressions

We received one of the Samsung Q1 UMPC devices. I haven’t even had time to play with it yet, but so far it seems like a very solid machine. It really reminds me alot of an oversized PSP. The display is sharp and the touch screen seems very responsive. I’ll write a more thorough review in the coming days. It showed up just in time for me to take it on the road with me this weekend.

Q1
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Posted by on Mar 12, 2006 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Sony VAIO TX650P

Sony Vaio VGN-TXN15P
Out of the ultra portable laptops that I’ve handled and dealt with the Sony Vaio TX650P is certainly my favorite. It’s quick and overall a sharp little laptop.

The keyboard takes a bit of getting used to after typing on a full sized keyboard. I liked how responsive the keyboard is, though I think I like the keyboard on the smaller IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad’s more.

The model we got has the following specs:

1.2GHz Intel Pentium M Processor
512mb Ram
60gb Hard Drive
DVD-RW+/DVD-RW-
11.1″ WXGA display
WiFi 802.11b/g
Bluetooth

Like I was saying for only being a 1.2Ghz it’s pretty snappy. I had no problems running Adobe Photoshop and editing photos on it.

Information on the web says “2.76 lbs with standard battery and has a standard battery life of 4 to 7.5 hours.” Now, I agree with the weight, this thing is light with the standard battery and only slightly heavier with an extended battery. However the 4 to 7.5 hours is a bit wierd. On a standard battery with the wifi running and doing normal work I only get 3 to 3.5 hours on a standard battery. I did get an extended battery and with it I can easily get 7 to 8 hours. The extended battery also lifts up the back edge of the laptop which I like.

The screen is quite impressive considering the thickness of it. I wasn’t sure about the screen because it’s got what they call xbrite and the the screen has that glossy look to it. I’ve looked at some laptops with the glossy screen and really don’t like them, but the Vaio’s screen isn’t that overly shiny type.

My complaints? There’s a goofy antenna on the right side that is for the wireless Wide Area Network with which you can access the Cingular Wireless national EDGE network. It can rotate up and I keep snagging it when I put it in a slip case. Speeking of slip case, it didn’t come with any sort of carrying case. It does get a bit warm with extended use, but the warmth is situated towards the back and not around the keyboard, like I’ve experienced with some laptops which then makes your hands hot. I’m not too keen on the volume and mute buttons found along the front right edge. I have to fumble around to hit them and I can’t easily find the mute button when I want it. Not a big deal, but a slight nuisance.

There is a cool AV mode that you can turn on and watch DVD’s, listen to music and view pictures without booting into Windows. It comes with a SD slot and Sony’s silly memory stick slot on the front. I’ve also been impressed with the solidness of the base of the laptop. The screen doesn’t feel as solid but that’s because of how incredibly thin it is.
Overall I’m really happy with the Vaio. It’s not a powerhouse, but it certainly does a good job and it’s the perfect combination of size and power.

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Posted by on Feb 9, 2006 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

PC to HDTV

SonyTV
Is it possible to connect a PC to an HDTV? HD is great on a computer monitor, but wouldn’t it be better on a large HDTV? This was my thinking after getting a new HDTV. To answer the question, yes it’s possible depending on if your equipment share a common interface. If you have a 30″ Apple cinema display, then don’t waist your time, or send it to me. I would be more than happy to send you my home address. :)

Step 1: Check your HDTV for DVI, HDMI, VGA, or Component connections.
Step 2: Check you PC for a DVI, VGA, or Component connections.

Note: These are the most common interfaces. If you only have an S-Video or Composite connection, then don’t waist your time. S-Video and Composite do not carry an HD signal. You computer monitor will look infinitely better, so it’s not worth the trouble for a larger display. The best connection is digital, so you preferably want to go with HDMI or DVI over VGA and Component.

Step 3: Buy a cable to connect the PC to HDTV, either a DVI to DVI or HDMI to DVI, whatever your case may be. I found my cable on eBay for ten dollars. DO NOT spend $100.00+ dollars at Best Buy or an electronics store for one of these cables. You will not be able to tell a difference between a cheap $10.00 dollar cable and a $100.00 dollar cable.

Step 4: Determine what resolution your HDTV needs to be set at. Most HDTV’s do not share the same native resolution as a computer monitor. To see which resolutions your HDTV supports check out the manual. Most companies have their manuals online.

If the resolution needed is not provided from your video card, try upgrading your drivers. Most video card companies have updated their software and drivers to support HDTV’s. I have an ATI 9700 AIW card. I had to upgrade the Catalyst software and video drivers, and then found the resolution I needed and support for 1080i. If the resolution isn’t available from the display controls of your PC then you will need to add it. Powerstrip is free software to allow you to do this, and it works extremely well. Try option one first and Powerstrip second.

Most HDTVs only accept a few resolutions and some only have component input. Since most PCs don’t have component output, it can be a bit more difficult. Your best bet is to either buy a video card that supports component output or to buy a VGA to component converter. Since the convert costs as much as a good video card, it makes more sense to go with the new Video card.

Note: It is important to keep in mind it is possible to screw up your TV by sending the wrong resolution. So make sure you understand what you are doing before you start to experiment too much. I am not responsible for ruining your beautiful HDTV. Experiment at your own risk.

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Posted by on Jan 7, 2006 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 2 comments

Motorla Razr V3c

Fullspec_img_30321
If ever there was an electronic device that would easily entice a guy to forsake his wife and have an affair with, it would certainly be the sexy Motorola Razr V3c. It is hot. I had the Motorola v265 and actually really liked it. Not enough to forsake my wife or anything, but It worked really well and I have had no problems with it. I used a V60 for a couple of years awhile back and really liked it as well. For a brief time I was enticed away from Motorola by the Kyocera Slider se47. It was bad. The thing got so hot I thought it might explode while I was talking on it for long periods of time.

I’ve had the Razr a couple of days and like I said I love it. The screen is huge and beautiful. The mp3 ringtones are way cool. The design and shape is great and solid. The sound quality is amazing. The camera works really good for a camera phone. Check out my moblog for some shots. The images on my moblog that are 640×480 are from the Razr. All of the other shots are from the v265. It’s not likely to replace my Nikon D70 anytime soon, but the camera works good.

I messed around and figured out the Bluetooth transfer for getting images on and off of the phone as well as getting mp3 ringtones onto it. It took a couple of minutes to get the two devices talking to each other. This was much faster than I expected. I experimented with some bluetooth stuff when it first came out and had a world of trouble getting it to work. I got the Razr to talk to a Motion Computing tablet PC and with my Dell Pocket PC. You’ll need to go to settings/connection/Bluetooth/Setup/ and do a couple of things on the phone. Change the name to something easily recognizable, make sure the bluetooth power is on and after those hit Find me. The Find me will make the phone “discoverable” by other devices for 60 seconds. This is a security feature so that your phone isn’t just out there all the time able to be connected to by other devices. Goto the other device and do a search for the phone and it should pop up. I always come back in and turn the bluetooth back off just to be safe.

Making ringtones out of mp3 songs was pretty easy. I used Sonic Foundry Sound Forge to get the piece of the song I wanted. Most of the ones I did were around 15 to 20 seconds. Since the clip I’m using is in the middle of the song I use the Process menu and select Fade-in to get a clean start to the clip. Then use Fade-out at the end of the clip. Then re-encode to mp3 and change the bit rate to 32k a sec at 22,050 hz, set it to mono and save. You then end up with a 80k to 100k mp3. From there I use the blue tooth file transfer to send it to my phone and viola! The Razr seems to not like long filenames so change the name of the file to something short. It didn’t like “I still havent found what I’m looking for” for a filename.
For the wallpapers 176×220 seems to be the perfect size. I just took regular jpg’s from my photoblog and grabbed pieces of a couple of those and get them sized to 176×220, transferred them to the phone and they look great! Here are a couple of the wallpapers I made for mine: (you are welcome to take these and use them all you want)

razr_columnsview  razr_fallleaves razr_railroadties

razr_raysoflight razr_sky razr_sunflower

One little tip, I renamed the wallpapers and mp3′s after I got them on my phone and put a period at the beginning of the filename. That way they are all grouped together. The phone comes with a bunch of default images and sounds (which I’d like to just delete, but it won’t let me) and this little trick makes it easier to find the stuff you’ve put on the phone.

Overall I’m highly impressed with the phone. I didn’t really have any problems with my last phone, I was adding an extra phone to my plan so my wife would quit taking mine. I started to go with one of the cheaper phones and decided to splurge and get the Razr. Mostly because Brandon has one and I’ve got to keep up with him. You know that whole keeping up with the Jones disease. :)

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Posted by on Nov 30, 2005 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Dell Precision followup

Just as promised a technician was sent out to fix the Dell laptop the following day. The laptop is back up and running although there’s a small issue that they are still working on. The tech had to replace the motherboard, which went fine. The problem is the laptop now thinks it’s a Dell Latitude and not a Dell Precision like it actually is. It doesn’t seem to have affected usability of the laptop, but the tech said the problem would be when I went to run updates from the Dell website. So they are getting the bios issue straightened out and it’ll be back to were it was. Overall I was impressed with Dell’s support and speed. It was a much better experience than I was expecting.

Update: 12/1/05 A tech came out today and got the Dell Precision laptop working correctly. The problem with the laptop thinking it was a Latitude and not a Precision is fixed and the laptop is back to how it was before the motherboard up and died. While I am impressed with the performance and design of the Dell Precision we have decided to go with the IBM laptops for our project instead of the Dell’s. The IBM laptops are actually higher priced and the warranty isn’t onsite like the Dell’s, but our confidence level is much higher than with the Dell’s at this point. Hopefully this turns out to be a good decision.

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Posted by on Nov 28, 2005 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Dead Dell Precision M70

MobileServerDellM70
We have a project going at work where we need several higher-end laptops to act as mobile servers. So we purchased a Dell Precision M70 (2.26ghz, 2gb ram, 80gb HDD, extra 80gb HDD for backup purposes), PowerNotebooks NP5720 (same specs as the Dell), and a IBM Thinkpad T43 (similiar specs except only 1.5gb ram). Up until Saturday I have been highly impressed with the Dell laptop. It has a solidly built, good design. Remember that I am a super picky user any wierd creaking or excessive fan noise or heat etc. I will notice and complain! The performance from the Dell has been super. Running Photoshop with full sized raw images went smoothly. Heat tends to be an issue that I’m particularly sensative to and the Dell certainly got warm as you’d expect but the heat is situated in the lower back section so if you use a laptop tray like I tend to use then I don’t even notice the heat. Many times to combat the heat there will be loud annoying fans and that isn’t the case with the Dell either. There are fans of course but they aren’t noticeable. So all this good news and then Saturday comes along and the Dell quits working.

I used it for a couple of hours Saturday morning with no problems. Then I went to turn it on Saturday afternoon and nothing. How often do we tell people to always backup their data? I have a program I’ve been working on for days and I hadn’t done any backups. I thought I was going to cry. I found the hard drive, removed it from the laptop and connected it to an external USB enclosure. These USB hard drive enclosures are great. If you haven’t tried one you should. I had an 80gb laptop hard drive laying around so I got one of these enclosures for $15. It’s awesome for fast portable storage.

Anyways I took the hard drive from the dead Dell and it fired right up in the USB enclosure. I got my files off and was safe.
So I called Dell support on Saturday and sat on hold for 45 minutes before I hung up irritated. This morning I called and was talking to a person within 5 minutes another 15 minutes of trouble shooting and the support guy came to the same conclusion that I had…it must be a circuit board of some sort within the laptop that was fried. He gave me a dispatch number and a case number and said someone should be out tommorrow to get it fixed. Check back later tommorrow for the results. Considering the quickness of the support I’m still hopefull on the Dell’s being a good solution.

Brandon is going to write up his review of the PowerNotebooks laptop and we just ordered the IBM Thinkpad the other day so we’ll write up something when we get it.

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Posted by on Nov 10, 2005 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

OQO Handheld PC

I’m not sure how they pronounce their name but I guess it’s just how it looks OQO. I’ve had many handhelds, both Palm and Pocket PC based. I like both of those operating systems equally.
OQOKeyboard
There are things the Palm does better than the Pocket PC and vise-versa. Both of them irritate me in different ways as well. What I really want is Windows XP on a hand held. The OQO Model 01 is just that. Far from perfect, I’ve been pretty impressed with this little machine.

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Posted by on Nov 3, 2005 in Blog, Computer Hardware, Software | 1 comment

Microsoft Media Center 2005

For the past couple of years, Microsoft has been pushing its Windows Media Center Edition PCs into stores and households around the world. I was more than a little skeptical when inquiring about Microsoft new product. The name alone Media Center sounds like a good way for Microsoft to sell you a bunch of extra hardware and software youdon’tt need. Actuallythat’ss not the case at all, well for the most part.

Windows Media Center 2005 is the newest version of Windows XPand is one of Microsoft’s slickest products in recent memory. Basically it’s Windows XP with Media Center added in. All the drivers have been optimized to let Windows be displayed on a TV and look good.

Media

For those who haven’t heard about Media Center or had a chance to see a Media Center PC in action, it’s basically an all-in-one home entertainment device. Media Center PCs act as a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) to let you record, pause and rewind live TV (like TiVo), allow you to play video files, music, pictures and more. All this is great, but who has $1,000.00 to spend for another PC to act like TiVo? Well the answer to that question is complicated, but I’ll try to help you with it.

A 40-hour TiVo box is $199.99, plus a monthly service of $12.95, or $155.40 a year. If you already have a PC, and want TiVo functionality, Media Center is the way to go. The TiVo part is great, but you also get so much more. You do not need to go out and buy a “Media Center PC”. Your existing PC can be converted into a Media Center PC fairly easily, and at a reasonable price.

To covert your existing PC into a Media Center PC, you will need two items.
1. Microsoft Windows Media Center 2005 with a remote control, and IR box. (Approximately $150.00)
2. TV Card certified to work with MCE-2005 by Microsoft. See list here. (Average Price $75.00)

For a little more than the price of TiVo Hardware, not including the service, you can have a Media Center PC. Not bad eh? Now you can connect your PC running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 to your TV, and you can enjoy your favorite computer and TV entertainment all from the same spot in your living room. You can enjoy live and recorded TV, DVDs, music, photos, and more on the big screen from the comfort of your couch and you can control it all with a single remote.

Okay, this is great, right? Well what if you want to leave your Media Center PC in the office, and still have all the Media Center features to work on the TV in the living room. This is why you upgraded in the first place, right? Well you don’t need to buy another PC, now you only need to buy a Media Center Extender. For the price it would cost to add another TiVo box (199.99) you can buy a Media Center Extender box. The extender would plug into your entertainment center in the living room, or whatever room you want to use Media Center in. Now you virtually have 2 Media Centers with all the features of TiVo, plus access to all your movies, pictures, and music that’s on your office computer!

The media center interface is extremely easy to use, and will be fun for the entire family. Check back in a few days, and I’ll show you how to add-on to a common house hold component to get the same features as a Media Center Extender for only 30 bucks! If you have any questions, leave me a comment, or email me at brandoncrain @ hotmail dot com.

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Posted by on Nov 3, 2005 in Blog, Computer Hardware | 0 comments

Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Ergonomic 4000I’m picky. I like my chicken just so. I like my steak just so. I like my keyboards just so as well. I’ve used the ergonomic keyboards for several years, but the last few models I haven’t liked much. They tended to creak and just not feel right. The early ergonomic keyboards were great and solid. The problem is that I can’t seem to use the same equipment more than 6 months before getting something new and improved. It’s a disease and I should probably seek some counseling.

So, I had been using a Logitech keyboard for sometime, but I’ve been wanting to get back to an ergonomic keyboard. I went first to Microsoft’s hardware site. As soon as I saw the Ergonomic 4000 I knew I wanted it. It looked slick and I loved the black color so I ordered one. It took several weeks to get it because they had just came out.

I’ve been using it now for about a week and it’s easily my favorite keyboard yet. The keys feel great. They are super quiet, which some people may not like. It has none of that noisey click click that some of the more sturdy keyboards have. There’s no creaking noise like some of the past ergonomic keyboards have either. The hand rest is super nice. It is soft with a leather like feel to it. It has the multimedia keys along the top and 5 programmable buttons as well. While I programmed each one I rarely use them though. It just takes discipline to use them instead of launching apps the way I normally do. The software for the keyboard installed without problems. It has a zoom slider between the middle keys that basically enlarges the font on web pages and I don’t really use that either. There is a back and forward button below the zoom slider for webpages, but I’m too used to using the buttons on the side of my mouse to go back and forward with. Overall it’s a great keyboard so far. We’ll see how long it lasts!

Ergonomic 4000

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