Category Archives: Hardware

Hardware stuff

Seagate open thyself

A year ago or so, I bought a 500 gig Seagate GoFlex portable harddrive. Unfortunately, I dropped it and started to have troubles with it. Initially, I thought the drive was just failing on me but upon thorough investigation I found out that actually the USB connector on the drive was broken. I recall that when I ‘unboxed’ the drive, I already had second thoughts about the cable and connector: I thought it looked suspiciously fragile.

I could go into a rant about everything fragile nowadays, but, here’s the thing: this drive contains a lot of data. I don’t want to lose my data. Why not just break it open and put it into one of those hd/custom enclosures: you know you can buy these at your local Staples for 20 dollars or so. Actually, opening the Seagate enclosure wasn’t too hard: first of all, there’s a plastic enclosing around the connector portion which you can slide out (use a bit of force..). Next, just push two or three flat screws into the rim and wiggle them until the top part lets go. Inside the shell, you can now take out the 2.5″ drive (you would need to screw off the aluminium cover) and put it into your custom enclosure.

I guess the moral is to stay clear from fragile connectors and plugs and all that stuff. On the other hand, a drive is just a drive. However, I fear the day, harddrive makers start to use propriety hd interfaces.

More images below the fold.

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You asked: Linksys WPSM54G

My WPS54G just died yesterday: this is a Linksys (nee Cisco) Printerserver that supports a whole slew of USB based printers. I had it tied up to my Canon MF5650 printer and if I remember correctly, installing was as easy as.

So, to the local computer grocery chain where they only had the WPSM54G (Linksys info page) for a price of 89.99 CDN. The sad part was that we had to look for the device because obviously, not too many people will buy these printer servers. That is probably because most printers nowadays come with an ethernet connection. Additionally, installing printer servers can be confusing and I suspect many people will just give up after a couple of tries.

Here’s my first tip: You do not need to install the Linksys drivers or software. On all your local computers that need to have access to the printer, you only need the proper printer drivers and most likely you already installed those drivers.

So, here goes again:

  • Wire up the device up to your network. By default it will automatically get an IP address (DHCP): it shouldn’t be too hard to find it on the network.
  • Open up the ip address in your favourite webbrowser: leave the username empty and enter the default password (“password”).
  • Set the IP address to a static IP address, change the password and set the wireless router properties. Here comes something that got me stuck first. For some reason, it’s supposed to work on wireless and not on wired. I have not been able to get it to work on both: so, make sure you set the proper gateway and credentials to your router. After you installed the firmware, take out the wired ethernet cable.
  • Make sure you get the latest update of the firmware: 1014 is so shoddy that it didn’t detect my Canon printer. Version 1019, made the difference for me.
  • At this stage, it should be time to start setting up your Windows machines and the principle is the same as described in the posting regarding the WPS54G, that is in 5 easy steps: 0. Add Printer 1. Local Printer… (uncheck auto detection) 2. Create a new port (TCP/IP) 3. Enter IP address (generic network card) 4. Select the proper printer and you should be go.

Afterthoughts: We had tried to print pages on our old printer server the day before and the moment the 1019 update was applied, these prints made it through. Note that I used the same IP address for the new server: so the moment the printer started spitting out pages from yesterday, I knew that the printer should be working, despite what the Linksys software suggested to me (“No Printer found, LOL, try again”). In short, the software is extremely lacking here and you can take my advice above at heart: There’s no need to install that Linksys crap load. Make note of the printer support page though (if you have a multi-functional printer…)

You asked: Creative Live 24-bits review

A couple of yearsCreative Live 24-bits ago, I bought a Creative Live 24-bit USB, after finding out that my latest computer’s soundcard did not include a wave-out mixer. The logical choice was to find an external USB soundcard and luckily I didn’t have to go too far (or dig too deep in my wallet). Two years ago, the Live’s went for around the 100 dollars (Canadian): nowadays they go for a lot less (the Creative site even has them listed between 45-50 dollars US). However, they’re generally considered to be an older generation of soundcards: Creative now solely focusses on selling you the X-Fi line of soundcards, which also includes a portable USB version, for a reasonable price.

But back to the Live!: It’s powered by USB, which saves you from having to use one ugly brick of an adapter. The device itself isn’t too big but is definitely not ‘wallet-sized': it feels sturdy enough to tag along and throw around the room. Installation of software and drivers is needed, of course, and this is where my main criticism comes in: I’m generally not so impressed with Creative’s software and the same is true for the software that comes with this card. To be frank: I’ve never actually used the software because there are generally better alternatives available to mix sound and create music files (I use Audacity for this). The default Windows Mixer is replaced with the one from Creative and it’s even in use when the card is not plugged in. So, don’t expect the typical USB behaviour of ‘plug-in anytime anywhere': if you’ve unplugged the Live and plug it back in, most likely you need to restart you computer to have your Live! sound come back (obviously, the box doesn’t come with a reset/on/off button of sorts).

The most important part of a soundcard is the sound of course: This is excellent and doesn’t disappoint. I’ve read that some people heard ‘clicking noises’ over time, but at this time the Live is still doing good. The MIDI sound handling is a bit poor, but if you don’t expect Roland SoundCanvas quality you may be able to get away with it. The card is also properly detected by many of the MID/DAW software packages out there: however, in some cases, you may need to poke through specific settings to get your MIDI In/Out going. Another nitpick is that the Live! doesn’t really have an ‘Audio in’ facility: this is actually shared with the Mic-in (The manual states this too, but I only discovered this after the fact of course).

So, if you’ve managed to find the USB version of the Live! online and you just discovered that your laptop doesn’t have a Wave Mixer, then the Live! is a good buy. If you have more money in your budget, and are a so-called audiofreak who likes to brag about the latest and greatest 7-1 Dolby system, you may want to consider investing in something else.

Minor update: I managed to get the card working on KDE too, but obviously you need to go through a lot more steps to get it actually going.

Update 2: This is probably a related post, using VirtuAmp (guitar plugged right in the box).

Unused icons.

When I was playing Call of Duty 4 online (earlier on xsamplex), I used to have a running joke when fellow PC players always asked me about my favourite mouse configuration: I said I was actually playing the game on a touch screen.

That was almost a year ago, and I just noticed that HP is (soon) to be releasing their newest touch based PC, probably well ahead of Apple. This is an exciting development, of course. But watching the demos on the HP site, this quote from one of the Flash movies which showcases HP’s Touch software (built on top of Windows Vista, it appears), makes me laugh:

Use the top row for programs you use everyday. Use the bottom row for your other programs.

For some kind of reason, I foresee a bright future for a ‘There are unused icons on the bottom row’-application.

My. Suck.s

Earlier, I was looking for an OpenWRT version that could run my Linksys WRT54G. This is where I found out that the hardware version of my router (“8″) isn’t supported. Aw. Apparently, Linksys switched to a propriety embedded OS, the [infamous] VxWorks. Aw2.

There are holy wars being fought about routers, particularly which one sucks and which one doesn’t. Personally, I haven’t had many issues with Linksys hardware and the WRT54 I bought this summer (no review!) was a piece of cake to set-up. I wished I had bought the one with that extra USB slot, though.

Talking about that infamous VxWorks: it’s a real-time operating system (Wikipedia) which is competing hard against Microsoft’s Mobile/CE platform. It’s apparently ported to many processors and it powers (and powered) most likely your favourite spacecraft, including the Mars Pathfinder mission. There’s an interesting anecdote about how the software almost threw a kink in the cable, detailed in this article at Microsoft Research (with an interesting follow-up from the JPL).

You. Read.

Amazon I read books.came out with an electronic book called the ‘Kindle’. The regular news sources are mixed about this device. For a company the size of Amazon and the business they’re in (selling books, originally) it makes perfect sense. I’m only not sure about that mini-keyboard that comes with it, which gives the initial impression that it is actually a stripped-down computer. Ars has an excellent review of this device. No question about it: this device runs a Linux flavour (I noticed the Java logo in one of the product manuals). This device can currently only be sold and shipped within the US.

Earlier, Sony released their 2nd generation Reader, originally named the PRS-505. Notice that both the Kindle and the PRS seem to use the same screen technology (E Ink). Ars Technica also reviewed this device (last week, actually). You can actually buy this device from Amazon (US$ 299). Both readers allow non-DRM material to be downloaded. However, both readers seem to support (or push) their own DRM-enabled file formats too, as both companies have their devices tie in to their own (online) bookstores. I’m not sure if Sony will make it in this battle for readers (After all, it’s all about the amount of books, I guess and at this stage, it looks like Amazon has the bigger share). The Sony Reader does indeed run Linux and the source code to it can be downloaded right from the Sony site.

As an aside, there’s an article at The Morning News that is hilarious: what happens if you let kids design laptops? Some of these kids-friendly laptops even come with the much-needed ‘Math button’. Imagine that: as a 70s kid, I thought calculators were going to solve all our math problems.

Update 1: Excellent commentary from Mark Pilgrim about DRM on books.
Update 2: Kindle sells out in 5 1/2 hours.

Made in WhereEverLand

My Apacer multi-card reader just broke on me. Upon closer inspection, the pins on both ends of the CompactFlash reader seem to have broken off1. Maybe I was in a stage of ‘excited delirium’, which according to popular belief, makes me as strong as a super hero. But I digress: I think they make this kind of hardware intentionally fragile because they are massively produced in countries where resources are cheap.

It always strikes me as funny, though, to blame the product’s country of origin for any breakage. For some reason, it reminds of anti-Japan sentiments in the late 70s and early 80s (or anti-Malaysia and anti-Taiwan in the 90s) where, at that time seemingly, all electronic hardware came from. Labour in those countries was cheap, so many manufacturers decided to move plants to Asia, which allowed these countries to enjoy an economic boom. Sometimes quality and mass-production don’t go hand in hand2.

To get back to the Apacer card reader: obviously the CF’s pin structural design is at fault (it is way too fragile) as it broke in its first year of usage. So, I end up making the next calculation before I get a new one: I could buy a new reader every year for 20 dollars (‘cheap’) or I could get one that lasts me a bit longer for the price of 30 dollar (My Canon camera seems to have an excellent and solid mechanism for guiding CF cards in its internal memory slot, so I presume there should be sturdier card readers around).

While I’m at it: I recall comments my dad made about the rise of Japanese-made (cheap) products before the Second World War broke out. The quality of these products were (at times) ‘abdominal’ and fueled the belief of European supremacy over the Japanese, that is, if they (the Japanese) decided to go to war3. History tells us the opposite happened, of course.

1 For a moment I was afraid the pins of the camera might have broken off and were stuck in the card. However, I just checked my camera and it looks fine.

2 This is not an entirely fair statement: the point of mass-production is to get consistent quality (compare with the car production by robots), but if the initial design of the product relies on dubious cheap components then something is terribly wrong.

3 Obviously war was on the minds of the colonials in Asia, particularly after Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in September of 1940, well after the German Blitzkrieg successes in Western Europe.

Oh. Noes!

Yesterday, my two sets of Ubuntu 7.10 (“Gutsy Gibbon”) arrived by snail-mail, which means that I’ll be upgrading my ‘v1r7u41 b0xen’ this weekend. Once again, the package came with free stickers. Hey, Sun, what’s that? Still no free stickers with your Solaris disks?

Engadget listed PhotoVu’s Digital Frame which comes with an RSS reader. Wait, there’s more: it has a built-in webserver (so that you can set up things and stuff). Wait there’s more: It uses Samba. 1, 2, 3, 4: Why, it runs Debian, of course. Nifty.

And on a completely different note: the .Net Framework (confirmed in 2.0, for sure) doesn’t support serialization of TimeSpans. This is not really a big issue, because you can generally workaround this. It just struck me by surprise.

Review: WPS54G

For aWPS54G long time I’ve been looking for a print server so that I can access that Canon MF5xxx printer from the network, without resorting to leave a computer on all day (you know, via the regular shared printing mess). I finally managed to get the Linksys WPS54G (product description) from the local computer chain. It’s an older model so it is not too expensive (they go for 69 to 79 CDN). If you need access to a multi-purpose printer (you know the ones with faxing and scanning), you probably want to look for the WPM54 series of this device.

If you’re familiar with Linksys devices, the setup is always the same: generally, you grab an extra network cable, connect the device to your computer connect to the web-based configuration screen (using the default IP address, which is generally at 192.168.1.1, or the IP-address provided in the manual) and start changing settings. This isn’t true for the WPS54G: the default IP address is nowhere to be found in the manuals, so the only way to find out the device’s IP address is to start up the Print Server setup program and follow the on-screen instructions. I stopped halfway (right before it wants you to setup the wireless section) after the setup program revealed the Print Server’s IP Address (you guessed it, the device will look for a DHCP server first). This is where I changed the IP address and other settings straight from within the device’s web server (which will generally require a restart of your computer).

If you’re not familiar with networks and networking, the setup program will probably do for you, I guess: however, if you’ve found the IP address of the WPS54G, I’d recommend to assign a static IP address to this thing. You may need to make changes to your router, though.

The next step is to configure your desktop computers: there’s a portion in the setup program that will do this for you too but you can ignore that. If you’re on Windows, make sure that your computer’s workgroup matches the one you’ve setup on your print server. For all Windows versions, you generally go to Printers & Faxes, select ‘Add Printer’. When the Printer Wizard comes up select the ‘Local Printer attached to this computer’ (make sure to uncheck ‘automatically detect and install’). Then, ‘create a new port’ (type of port TCP/IP). In the next screen enter the IP address of the Print Server (use generic networking card/port), select the printer from the printer drivers list (notice that most likely your printer driver has already been installed because you have been printing to this printer before…) and then, print out your test page.

For the rest, the WPS54G works as promised in the flyers: it’s reasonably fast but it gets a bit hot though after printing a couple of jobs. You may also wish to upgrade to the latest firmware (you can download the latest firmware from here). You can configure a couple of goodies or ungoodies from within the device’s webpanel: I think I saw a couple of settings that allow you to send print jobs via e-mail, which may fill your uh, needs. And that’s basically it.

Nowadays, a lot of printer models come with networking capabilities. If you’re looking around for a new printer, it’s a good idea to consider one with an ethernet connection.

Feb 2nd, 2009: It looks like the WPS54G died on me. I’ll have to either look for the same model or see if I want to go look at the M version

Feb 4th, 2009: And here is the WPSM54G.

You asked: Satellite A100-TA9 review

ThereThe A100-TA9 we go again: you ask and I’ll take a look at it.

To start right off: It appears that Toshiba has been rushing to get laptops out before the official Vista release, last week. Their current A100 high-end laptop (the VA-9) features almost exactly the same case (the black/silver coloured one) but comes with slighly different hardware: for example the VA9 comes with a T5500 processor, while the TA9 has a T5600. Both are (as you probably know) Duo Core 2 processors (wikipedia). Other slight differences between the two is that the VA9 apparently comes with a 200 Gig harddrive, while the TA9 comes with ‘only’ 160 gig: additionally, the VA9 comes with Windows Vista Home Premium. Since the TA9 is basically a slightly older model (Fall 2006), it comes with Windows XP (or Media Center, generally). You may (or you may not) consider upgrading to Windows Vista (as discussed here).

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You asked: Satellite P100 SD3 review

Yes a Toshiba P100 SD3brandnew category at xsamplex: you ask, we deliver!

I’ve been working on a Toshiba Satellite P100 SD3 (action picture) for a while now and I generally like it OK. It’s priced fairly well (it’s currently available at Staples and FutureShop) for what you get: it’s Duo (T2400), it’s got 1 Gig and most importantly, it has a GeForce GO 7300 (128 MB) which means that it will play your recent PC games. Look for X3 here for what you can expect.

That said, I find the harddrive the slowing factor: the built-in HD (a Toshiba MK1032GSX) is not a fast drive, which you may notice when you switch from fullscreen apps (games) to windowed apps [CTRL+TAB]. I also find 100 Gig not enough, particularly if you think about the space Windows XP already takes up.

The other part I don’t like is the keyboard: For some kind of illogical reason, the most important keys (arrow keys, semicolon, period, pipe, single quote) have been made smaller than the rest of the keys just so that the board would fit a freaking numeric keypad. So, the right side part of the keyboard doesn’t feel ‘well-balanced’, particularly if you’re a programmer: all the important programming keys are twice as small as the normal keys on the left hand side (see the image above: you can literally draw a diagonal line that separates the small keys from the big ones, starting from the > key up to the upper Pause/Break key). I also have my doubts about the quality of the keyboard: I have had no problems with previous Toshiba laptop keyboards, so maybe I’m wrong. If you look into buying this computer, I’d recommend you try out the keyboard first: if you’re not a programmer, you may not even notice the keyboard issues. You may even love that extra numeric keypad. Oh: don’t worry about that sales representative. It’s your right to fully test a laptop’s keyboard.

I do like the screen and since it allows you, you may just as well set the screen to the highest possible resolution. The NVidia driver comes with plenty of gimmicks: most of the features you probably end up turning off. The big screen (17″!) seems to be the main cause of the lower than average battery lifetime: if you make it two hours on the standard battery, consider yourself lucky. I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the Duo core: actually, I find the T2400 perform excellent: for the power push test, try executing multiple applications that run multiple threads. It’s a damn well, efficient processor. Which makes me wonder how those other processor do (I’m particularly curious about those AMD Dual Athlon processors).

The low-down: it’s a remarkably well-priced computer. It runs Debian and Ubuntu with no problems, which makes this laptop ready for the latest and greatest stuff on Linux. Its Duo Core performs extremely efficient under stress (without generating too much heat, as far as I can tell). The Harman Kardon speakers are extra and produce excellent sound, and the screen, it’s huge, brilliant and perfect. However, I’ll be honest: if you can and are willing to spend an extra 100 dollars on a computer with a bigger (and faster) harddrive1, with the same configuration (i.e, 1 Gig, NVidia/ATI, Duo Core), you may want to look for something else. If you think you’re going mobile a lot, consider going for a laptop with a smaller screen: the 17 inch screens look l33t, but frankly, they just kill battery life. And, if you’re a programmer who types a lot, you may want to try the keyboard out before buying this: ironically all important programming keys that happen to be on the right-hand side of the keyboard have been made significantly smaller.

1 : Most laptops probably carry Toshiba HDs.

Extra Linux stuff (how to get the sound working back again)