09.17.10

Allway Sync now supports Amazon S3

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:53 am by mike

So I’ve been using AllWay Sync tool for a couple  years now to keep laptops synchronized (free for home use).   I recently downloaded the latest version to help me back up the HTPC harddisk before pulling it out and moving it to the ReadyNAS NV+ as an iSCSI device (a story for another time).    In the back of my mind, I’ve also been contemplating various offsite backup strategies.    My photo and home video collection is nearing 1TB, and after seeing the San Mateo gas fire, I’m a little more motivated to get those offsite.

It turns out the latest version of AllWay now supports Amazon S3!  This basically gives you an unlimited storage solution for $1.20$1.11/GB/yr using S3 RRS.    Or $10 $9 a month for a TB of backup.   The beauty is you only pay for what you use, so 250GB is only $2.50 $2.25 a month, or $27/yr.  The AllWay tool can do scheduled synchronizations and after the initial sync, it only pushes new files and deletions.

Now the Internet backup providers like Carbonite are running right as low as $55/yr for unlimited backup, so you may be able to pay a little less for a more feature rich solution if you are over .5TB but if you have multiple PC’s (or a NAS).   That said $55/yr only gets you 1 PC and I don’t know if it will backup network shares.  Furthermore they don’t recommend the $55 solution for anyone with more than 200GB.  In fact, in their FAQ they mention something about bandwidth throttling at 35 and 200 gig.

Finally, Amazon has been consistently dropping the price on S3 storage every year, so it will only get cheaper.    Allway includes integration with Windows Task Manager, so scheduled backups are a breeze.   As soon as I get all the drives reorganized, this is definitely the next task on the list.

09.01.10

More CPU Envy

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:49 pm by mike

So just completed the configuration of my new Dell M4500.

  • Intel i7 Q72o @ 1.60GHz (not the fastest i7, but uses the least power)
  • 8GB memory
  • 60GB SSD drive
  • 500GB HD
  • Windows 7 Ultimate, 64 bit

The machine measures twice as fast as my old 4300 and the i7 excels at running VMWare machines. (Task Manager shows 8 CPUs: 4 hyperthreaded cores)  Add the SSD for the OS, and you’re not waiting for anything.   Furthermore, with a 64bit OS,  I now have 4G allocated to each 32 bit VM and they run like they are native.    Other nice touches are the back lit keyboard, wireless-N card and external SATA port.

My only complaint is the camera built into the screen is always pointed at you. I’d prefer it had a some sort of physical lens cap.

Nice big keyboard with three mouse buttons above and below the pad.

The WEI score is 6.5 due to I didn’t bother with the high end graphics card. Processor and SSD come in at 7.0 and 7.3. 7.9 is the highest score possible, don’t ask me why…

Mean looking charcoal black case

BTW: The upgrade to the latest BIOS from Dell seemed to solve the BSOD problem I saw a couple times.    Haven’t seen it since.

07.24.10

CPU Envy

Posted in Intel, Windows at 1:32 am by mike

When I first started working for SCO in 1989, Xenix was the ONLY 32 bit operating system available for the Intel 386 platform.   In fact, in 1983, when Linus Torvals was 14 years old, SCO had Xenix running on two platforms:  the Mac Lisa and the Intel 8086.   Yes,  years before Tanenbaum’s Minux was released, SCO had a AT&T System III kernel running in 640k of memory.   And Microsoft even paid them to do it!  But for that story, see wikipedia.

So when I arrived at SCO, their primary focus was still writing OS software and I was working on the X Windows port to the new SCO Unix, the successor to Xenix.  I started with a Zenith 16MHz 386 on my desk, and at the time, that was considered a lot of CPU to dedicate to one user!  But the best part of the job was being one of the first people to work on the 486 in order to get the X server running on the platform.   Of course, I didn’t get it on my desk, I had to drive over the hill to Olivetti for a few weeks (where people smoked in their cubicles!) and work on the machine there because there were so few of them.   Later on, I had the same task on one of the first Pentium systems in order to demo an X Windows application running faster than the Sun Workstations of the time.

Those were the days when it was simple to tell which was the faster Intel Processor.   You just looked at the name: Pentium, Pentium II, Pentium III, and the MHz number and it was obvious.  With the Pentium 4 we were up to 10K MIPS.   And then Intel decided it was better to confuse the market.   So now let me ask a simple question:  Rank the following Intel processors in order of performance:

Intel Core i7 820QM @ 1.73GHz

Intel Core2 Quad @ 2.83GHz

Intel Xeon X5670 @ 2.93GHz

Well you have to figure this is easy,  the Xeon line was introduced in 2001, the Core 2 in 2006 and the core I7 in 2010!   So even given the lower GHz number, the i7 must be the fastest of the bunch, right?    Turns out to be just the opposite.   The i7 is the slowest processor listed, and the Xeon is the fasted, with the Core 2 winding up in the middle.     Of course, the Xeon platform has been redesigned a few times since 2001, and if you look at this handy chart from PassMark, you’ll see that an Intel Core i7 X 980 @ 3.33GHz does now top the list as Intel’s fastest processor, but the models vary widely below that depending on everything from cache size, to bus speed. (And they haven’t listed the Xeon x7350)   It’s been fairly widely recognized now that increasing clock speed no longer gets you the performance returns it once did.

But how does this help you decide which Intel CPU to buy?  Well there’s one more piece of information you need, and that obviously is price.   In this case, the folks at pricewatch are nice enough to give us the latest CPU prices for both Intel and AMD (ignore the PassMark price, it’s already out-of-date).   So now you can see how much each of these cost.   But the thing you really want is a mash-up page (sorry, someone with more time than I needs to build it) that shows you the PassMark/$ figure.    Going back to the three I listed:

Intel Core i7 820QM @ 1.73GHz 3500/$250 -> 14PM/$

Intel Core2 Quad Q9300 @ 2.50GHz 3500/$149.00 -> 23PM/$

Intel Xeon X5670 @ 2.93GHz 9600/$1359 -> 7PM/$

So it’s interesting that with the cheaper processors, you actually get more bang for the buck than the ultra high end.   Another thing that adds to the cost is the power draw.   So I’ve been eyeballing the Q9550S, which is the low power version of the Q9550.  The lower power also means less heat, which means less fan noise, which is always a big win in a HTPC to replace my poor Intel Core2 Duo E8500 @ 3.16GHz.

The E8500 only rates 2400 on the PassMark test, while the Q9550 is at 4300.  But once again we find at $148, the E8500 is getting 16PM/$ while the Q9550S at $350 is only 12.   Now do I really need 2 more processor cores to rip all the old Disney video tapes to disk?   Probably not, but it’s not like you need 4WD on that SUV, but you sure like having it…

05.21.10

Simple document scanner program

Posted in Windows at 3:11 pm by mike

Ever needed to scan a document using a manual scanner?   I used to go through this painful process using the scanner wizard and pasting the images into a word document.    With a quick search, I found Documalis Free Scanner It’s written by a French company, so depending upon your language skills, you may have to click over to the English UI when you start it up.    From there it’s one button push for each page, with thumbnails showing you the pages you’ve already scanned, and the ability to save the whole thing as a PDF.   Couldn’t be easier and you can’t beat the price.

Two minor oddities:

  1. The first scan starts immediately.   You need to be ready to go when you start the program
  2. You have to pre-select your destination directory.    The filename dialog at the end isn’t the standard Windows browse and save.

Once again.  It’s a great program for the price.

05.20.10

Every SSD could use a little TRIM

Posted in Home Theater, Windows at 9:01 pm by mike

So I was an early adopter of a Corsair P128 SSD drive for my media center machine.   I was extremely pleased with the fact that it eliminated 95% of the disk noise, even though I left the 1TB HD in the machine.   Even when recording to the HD, it barely makes a noise since the OS is completely running off the SSD and the HD doesn’t need to do any seeks.   But because I bought the disk right around the time Windows 7 was release, the SSD firmware didn’t yet support the TRIM command.

What the TRIM command does is tell the SSD to actually clear all the data from deleted files.    Regular old harddisks don’t care much whether they are writing to an empty space, or overwriting a deleted file.   Hence, when you delete a file, usually all the operating system does is mark the space used by the file as free.   Then the next file is welcome to overwrite that space.

Unfortunately, due to the design of SSD memory, it’s actually much slower to overwrite existing memory, because it needs to be cleared first.   This becomes even more time consuming when you are writing a file that is smaller than the SSD block size (Both traditional and solid state drives like to deal with data in a standard size like 256KB or 512KB.  This is called a “block”).   In the case of the SSD, it needs to read the entire block into memory, clear the entire block, then write it back with your small change.    Now this is all done internally on the drive, but still is much slower than a simple read or write.

If the OS knows it’s dealing with an SSD, it can send along a TRIM command after every delete operation.    This tells the SSD to clear the memory associated with the files that were recently deleted.   Note this can usually be done in parallel to other work, so by the time you want to write something to that same block, the freed data has already been cleared!   Note, this does disable the ability to retrieve deleted files, which has long been a double-edged sword in the DOS/Windows world.

Anyways, I thought I was running on a TRIM-less SSD, which meant my performance was going to suffer over time.   Luckily,  at the end of last year Cosair released a firmware update for the both the P and X series which adds the TRIM command.  It just took me a while to remember to check for it.  I was able to verify the SSD firmware version using a clever tool called Crystal Disk Info.   Unfortunately, I only have the “after” screen shot.   In the before shot, the work TRIM was faded/stippled, like the APM in this one.

That’s the good news, the bad news is that the firmware upgrade ERASES THE ENTIRE DISK!   That meant I need to explore Windows 7 backup and restore options a little more.

I was pleasantly surprised.   Backing up an image SSD to the HD was just a few clicks using the windows backup tool (OK, I did have to delete a number of old episodes of Ace of Cakes and Project Runway to make space [ sorry honey ] ).   The one hiccup I had was creating a bootable recovery CD.    After telling you to insert your CD, the create recovery disk program would hang and eventually error out with an Optical Drive error.   The problem turned out to be an old version of Virtual Clone Drive which was giving the system fits when trying to identify the disk devices.  Removing it solved the problem, and I wasn’t able to repro it after installing the latest from Slysoft.

The most challenging part was that firmware upgrade documentation insisted that the installation program was only supported when running from a bootable USB flash drive.   This turned out to require a bit more research than I expected.    I found a number of links with a number of different methods for creating a bootable flash drive.   The simplest one I actually found on a German website I translated through Google.   But after a quick search today, I found the same instructions on a native english site as well. The bottom line is you grab the HP Flash Format program and a copy of the DOS system files.     The HP program is fairly idiot proof, and will allow you to browse for the DOS system files you want to load.

After copying the P128 firmware files to the USB drive (after formatting it with the bootable OS) it was amazing how quick and painless it went.    I did have to muck with the PC Bios to tell it to boot off the flash drive, but once I did, every thing went quick and easy. I actually wasn’t sure it had worked, but running it the second time it said there was nothing to do.   I then booted off my Windows recovery disk, and it automagically found my backup on the HD, and asked me if I wanted to restore the SSD.   It really couldn’t of been any easier.

Now, if I could just get the latest version of Arcsoft TMT to play BDs on my system.. but that’s a story for another time.   For now, learn from my trials and tribulations and DO NOT try to use your HTPC as your primary BD player.   It will cost you at least $400, and you can buy the same thing for $99 at Best Buy.   As you can guess, there’s a 1000 word rant waiting to be released about this one.

05.15.10

Fun with the iPad

Posted in Mobile at 2:58 pm by mike

So I decided to get my wife an iPad for mothers day that MPSharp needed to do some iPad research (business requirement), so I picked one up at Best Buy a few weeks ago.   Went for the 64G version with no 3G, thinking that I really didn’t need to give AT&T more money on a monthly basis.  Also, given the iPhone 3G is getting a little long in the tooth, I figured it was time to jailbreak it and turn it into a mobile hotspot for the iPad.   I’d already added mobile hotspot software to my HTC Touch Pro 2 (Tilt 2) and the iPad works great with that.   The question was how much work was involved to jailbreak the iPhone.

So it seems it seems that jailbroken iPhones are now widespread enough to have their own app stores.    Jailbreaking the phone is now idiot proof.   Download the Spirit  jailbreak program, connect your phone, run the program, click “Go” and you’re done!   Installing the hotspot software was a little trickier.   I actually paid $9.99 for MyWi, which also required another jb app store manager called RockYourPhone.  Of course, as soon as I paid for that, I found a free one called PDANet.  This got me wondering about the market for jb iPhones and how many of them there are.   Last year, Cydia reported almost 500,000 visitors a day (I’m sure they are well past that now)  It’s an interesting testament to Apple’s business model.

So back to the iPad.   A few observations:

  1. It’s heavy. It’s too heavy to suspend in the air for any length of time.   Even trying to watch a 5 minute YouTube video is a little too much.   I suspect stands will be a hot selling item, especially if you want to watch a movie on an airplane, or some such.
  2. Lack of Flash sucks.   I sincerely hope Apple loses this fight.  I did find an interesting Bookmark hack called iTransmogrify which pipes the video through YouTube to make it iPhone friendly.   This helps to a small degree.   As usual, there are some JB solutions such as iMobileCinema, but I’m not excited about jailbreaking the iPad just yet.
  3. The screen is difficult to read in outside daylight.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very compelling device.   Browsing through the JB iPhone is useable, but it seems to go much faster through the HTC which has been hacked for HSDPA (4G) performance.  It really seems to get the most use as a TV companion device.   It currently shares the coffee table with a laptop, and it’s interesting to see which device you want to use for what.   For instance, I’m using the laptop to write the blog (the on-screen keyboard is much better than the phone), but nothing really beats the lean back browsing experience.   It’s obvious the device will have an infinite use as a remote control, even if it’s made obsolete by newer versions.   I just installed an RDP client on it today and used it to play music on the HTPC.   I happen to know there are a number of  interesting IR solutions out there made for the iPhone, they’ll be even more usable with the iPad, but even an old iPod Touch will work in this case.  I’ll wait for the price on those to drop a bit.  Next thing to try is some book reading, but I still think the device is going to be to heavy to do that comfortably.

Finally, it wins hands down for one handed browsing while feeding a baby.

04.26.10

Amazon HTPC Spec

Posted in Home Theater, Windows at 7:25 am by mike

I put a new HTPC spec up on Amazon listmania.  I’m not sure why… 🙂

04.24.10

Couple Interesting Finds

Posted in Home Theater, Windows at 11:35 pm by mike

Hanging out in Santa Cruz this weekend, using the new hammer drill to bore through some tile and concrete floor. Quite pleased with the result. Found a couple other things that I need to follow up on this week.

  1. Microsoft Silverlight 4 It looks like they added the h261 hardware accelleration in this release, just like Adobe is doing with Flash 10.x.   The one thing Microsoft likes about Apple these days is Steve Jobs telling everyone Flash sucks, but I don’t think we’ll see Silverlight on the iPAD anytime soon.
  2. oishiiunko on TGB just posted a link to his Remote Control application for WM 6.5!   He’s now officially my new hero.   I’ve already installed it on the Tilt 2, but of course, I can’t do anything else until I get back home and install WMC Controller on the HTPC.    I can see some late nights and low contracting productivity  coming this week.
  3. Speaking of gigs, I just finished a little HTPC R&D project for a customer.   I’m considering posting a version of the results on Amazon’s Listmania to see if I get some more traffic back to here.
  4. So I used the proceeds from #3 to order  a MSI ATI Radeon HD5450 1 GB DDR3 VGA/DVI/HDMI PCI-Express Video Card R5450-MD1GH from Amazon.   Two things about this card.   The most important is I’ll finally be able to send the TrueHD audio track from a BluRay Disc to my receiver.   In short, the studio’s insist on a 100% hardware encryption/decryption scheme for the audio track on a BD, so you need a complete hardware solution to play it.   My recommendation to anyone else is just buy a $99 BD Player and get on with your life.   That said, Intel has just released a processor line that will do it, along with ATI and Nvidea.   This ATI card is only $70.   It doesn’t have any of the fancy 3D engines (actually, I think the 3D is slower than my current card) but aside from the TrueHD bitstreaming, it also has DDR3 SRAM, which runs cooler than DD R2 and hence doesn’t need a fan.   The only remaining noise after installing the SSD is the fan on the ATI 4850, which I now know is much more graphics card than I needed.   I’ll see if I can resell it on EBay, since this is still a decent gaming card.
  5. Finally, I also game across a Windows Services Hacking article on hack7mc.   This will be another time sync, but it will be nice to free up some memory on Windows and get the boot and response time just a little bit faster.

That all should keep me busy for a while (not to mention I’m doing another LCD screen mounting and install for another customer this week).   If you know anyone looking for help setting up their Home Theater, Flat Screen or HTPC, please send them my way.

03.31.10

Hmm… Tool Porn

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:27 pm by mike

So about 10 years ago I picked up a 16.8v cordless drill/flashlight combination for something like $29.99.    Worked great for a few years when one of the batteries stopped taking a charge.   Went back to Sears only to discover they no longer made any 16.8V devices.    Looked on Ebay & Amazon and they wanted $49 for a used battery, and $100 for a new one.   So I went back to sears.com and started looking for a new drill.   Of course, little did I know I was going to stumble upon this for $299 (free shipping):

Not only did it replace the drill and flashlight along with 4 other tools, it also comes with 3 batteries and the rolling toolbox.   Great addition to the Home Theater installation shop on wheels.  A quick look inside the box:

The first level holds the drills and light.

The second level has the three saws.   The only think missing was a hammer drill for installing TV mounts on brick fireplaces.    So I added one of those as well.

Finally, to top this all off, I also picked up an gorgeous Hammerhead LX stainless steel toolbox off of Craigslist.  (This is what the Siren Padlock in the first picture is for)  Unfortunately, the company went out of business, but I managed to pull some info out of the google cache:

Width: 41-3/16″ (46″ including side handles)
Height: 61.5″ (55-1/2″ without casters)
Depth: Top 17.5″ (18.25″ with drawer pulls)
Bottom 18.0″ (18.75″ with drawer pulls)Net Weight Top Chest: 169 lbs.
Net Weight Bottom Roller Cabinet: 262 lbs
Total Net Weight: 431 lbs

Inner Dimensions:

TOP CHEST:

Lid: 41-3/16″ W x 15-3/8″ D x 2-1/4″H
Tray beneath Lid: 41-3/16″ W x 15-3/8″ D x 2-1/2″ H
total internal area of lid is 41-3/16″ W x 15-3/8″ D x 4-3/4″ H

Left bank of drawers on Top Chest, from top to bottom:

1. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
2. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
3. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
4. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
5. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H

Right bank of drawers on Top Chest, from top to bottom:

1. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
2. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 12″ H (will accommodate hanging file folders)

BOTTOM ROLLER CABINET:

Left Bank of drawers on Bottom Roller Cabinet, from top to bottom:

1. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 5-1/8″ H
2. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
3. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
4. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
5. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 5-1/4″ H
6. 22-1/2″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 8-5/8″ H

Right Bank of Drawers on Bottom Roller Cabinet, from top to bottom:

1. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 5-1/8″ H
2. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
3. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
4. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 2-3/8″ H
5. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 5-1/4″ H
6. 12-3/8″ W x 16-5/8″ D x 8-5/8″ H

Total cubic inches of internal storage space is 25,555 cu. in.

Dimensions of Side handles:

Top: 9-3/8″ Long x 2-3/8″ Deep
Bottom: 9-1/2″ long x 2-3/8″ deep
Side handles are 1″ thick extra heavy duty 12 gauge Stainless Steel.

Casters:
Including caster bracket: 6-1/4″ high
caster: 5″ diameter x 1-1/2″ thick

Note that two casters have brakes (shown on left side of chest)

Stays: The bottom roller cabinet has corner stays to prevent the top chest from sliding off. The stays measure 5/8″ high x 1″ wide and wrap around the corner on all four sides.

Too bad they are gone. They look like they had some nice stuff:

03.28.10

3Mbits/sec tethering via the HTC Tilt 2

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:32 pm by mike

I was able to get 3Mbits/sec from Speakeasy when tethered through the phone.  Not too shabby.  A couple hack tricks helped, which I’m keeping as a separate page here.

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