Hardware – TipsFor.us http://tipsfor.us Tech Tips, Reviews, Tutorials, Occasional Rants Fri, 21 Mar 2014 05:03:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Printing in OS X: Parallel Ports, Drivers, and Mayem http://tipsfor.us/2008/12/30/printing-in-os-x-parallel-ports-drivers-and-mayem/ Tue, 30 Dec 2008 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=911 Continue reading Printing in OS X: Parallel Ports, Drivers, and Mayem ]]> Don't Buy One of These! They Don't Work!
Don

This is a quick tip. In a word, do not buy the USB to Parallel conversion cables. They SOMETIMES work, which is worse than not working, because then you start believing that they might work, but when it comes time to print something serious (like a 100 page document), you will go insane… you’ll print 3 pages, then the print queue will jam, you’ll have to reset it, and it will take 4 or 5 minutes to get the next 3 pages into the queue, then it will jam again, and again and again. It’s nuts. You will have wasted $10 or $20 bucks and you won’t be able to print anything reliably.

Using Parallel Printers with OS X

So how do you use a parallel printer with an OS X computer? Macs haven’t had parallel ports on them for years, but there are still plenty of printers out there that do. Here’s my hot tip: get a dedicated print server and hook this into your network. This works, it works well, AND it’s scalable. If you get another USB printer, this option will cover you. If you have multiple computers in your house that need to share a printer, boom, you’re in luck.

This guy is a good friend to OS X
This little guy is a good friend to OS X

I recommend the
TRENDnet TEW-P21G
($110) because I’ve been using it for about 2 years and I haven’t had any problems with it. I simply plugged it into my router, plugged in the printer, and poof… OS X was able to find it. I’m not using the wireless option on this device, but it is there if I ever need it — if you don’t need the wireless option, TRENDnet has cheaper models. It has two USB 2.0 and one Parallel printer port. I’m sure there are other similar products out there, but the point is to let this little “computer” handle the printing instead of trying to make OS X do the difficult (?) job of translating printing to a parallel port. Check out a print server like this if you need to interface with a parallel port printer on OS X. It’s well worth the money.

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Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review) http://tipsfor.us/2008/10/03/sylvania-g-netbook-hardware-review/ http://tipsfor.us/2008/10/03/sylvania-g-netbook-hardware-review/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2008 20:22:59 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=594 Continue reading Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review) ]]> I recently acquired a Sylvania -G Netbook. I would never say that this machine is without flaws, but for the price tag it is a worthy competitor. I picked mine up on sale at Tigerdirect for $299 + Shipping. This price puts it a full bracket beneath Asus’s competition EeePc. Is the EeePc a better machine? In a word, yes. They have released nearly a dozen models and worked out alot of the flaws and challenges of building a machine this tiny. However, their price tag clearly displays their market domination. So I’m going to discuss why, for the right person, the Netbook is a great deal. [And hopefully warn the “wrong person” that this is not the netbook for them]

Tech Specs

  • Price- Recommended $399.00 (I have never seen it priced this high, especially with the Netbook Meso coming soon.)
  • Notebook type Netbook
  • Screen type Wide-screen
  • Display Type 7 in TFT active matrix
  • External Display DVI-out on Left Side (DVI-VGA Dongle Included)
  • Max Resolution 800 x 480 (In Linux) 1000 x 600 (In Windows)
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor UniChrome Pro IGP (Openchrome Linux Driver)
  • Processor VIA C7-M 1.2 GHz (Sub-clocked to 600 mhz for some reason [can be adjusted] )
  • Core voltage technology Ultra Low Voltage (ULV)
  • RAM Installed Size 1 GB
  • RAM Technology DDR SDRAm
  • Hard Drive 30 GB
  • Removable Storage SD Card Reader
  • USBs 2X on Right Side
  • WLAN RT8187 chipset from Realtek
  • WiredLAN 8P8C(Standard)
That is a basic full size Dell Keyboard for Scale.
User's Left Side (DVI port, SD card reader.)
User Right Side (Mic, Sound, 2X USBs, 8P8C Jack, DC-Power)

Hardware Review

LCD – 7 inches. This could be troublesome for some people, especially operating at 800×480, which is the maximum the openchrome driver can support. (At least out of the box, some wizardry in the X.org config could prove otherwise, but Sylvania claims it tops out at 800 x 400.) Under Windows, however, the drivers provided by Sylvania’s website supports a standard 1000×600; this setting is more than sufficient for most tasks.

LCD Hinges/Bezel – Since I have had some awful experiences with the iBook G4 and its amazing gap that grows between the bottom edge of the screen panel and the actually LCD display, I have grown to be wary of such things. No fear with the g-netbook, though, the LCD has its own frame that is inset into the LCD panel in such a way that it is virtually indestructible.

LCD, Webcam to the right, speakers below.

-My second fear is always with hinges. Anyone else own one of those great Dells a couple years back, where, just before the hinge plastic breaks, it severs the LCD power wires for the backlight? Well, these hinges feel solid, even when opened from an edge. They hold the screen tight and are internally beveled to snap the lid closed when it is about 1/4 inch from the keyboard. There is no play in the lid when it is closed.

Keyboard – Chicklet Keys. This is not the keyboard for the ham-fisted. it takes a little while to adjust, but after 2 weeks, full-size keyboards feel expansive. I do hold issue with the single-key-sized Right Shift Key. The Left Shift is double, but the Right Shift is very tiny and located just on the far side of the Up Arrow (you can see the trouble inherent in this, right?) Once you get used to it, though, it is cramped, but not bad.

Touch Pad – .6″ I wish I was joking. It really is. In Linux, the touch pad sensitivity is jacked so high that you just have to place your finger in the middle of the pad and kind of roll it to traverse the entire screen. My main problem with it was when I picked my finger up from the pad, it invariably moved the cursor. Yes, you can install apps to adjust it, but not with updates and installs disabled in gOS BETA. In windows, it becomes more manageable right out of the box, it takes about 3 swipes across the pad to clear the screen from edge to edge. Tap functionality is native, but on the default Linux sensitivity, I wouldn’t recommend it. On the second tap you will invariably move the cursor a good 3 inches across the display.

Yes, that is a quarter. It is that small.

Wireless – Where to begin? It has the Realtek RT8187 chipset built in. This, hardware wise, is not a bad chipset. The support, however, is terrible. If you check your driver blacklist in Linux, you will probably find 3 or 4 drivers for this hardware already blacklisted. The default driver assigned to the interface in gOS is passable. It can connect to networks, even WPA, but the connection is sketchy at best. I found the connection mostly reliable when within 10-15 feet of my router (Keep in mind, I have an external Realtek USB card [similar chipset] on a windows media station over 40 feet away that connects like super glue). Even when connected, it would drop the connection, but still display connectivity. So I tried Ndiswrapper with the windows drivers provided on the Sylvania website. It upped my range by about 5 feet, but lost WPA support. Had to switch Network-Manager for WICD and gained back my WPA, but lost ability to connect to unsecured connections. Dropped connections still displaying connectivity never changed. Needless to say, it will require some serious wizardry if you plan to get the card fully functional in Linux – not for the faint of heart.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the machine based on poor driver choices in a BETA Linux distro, so I installed Windows on the machine to test the chipset under a supported environment. The provided Sylvania drivers still proved troublesome, so I went to the source. Realtek’s drivers on their support page, however, were out of date. It took some googling, but I eventually found the newest version, which works like a dream. Massive range, solid connection. Three drivers for the same chipset before it functions in Windows, though? Really? This is some poor company support all around.

Bios – Surprisingly adequate bios. When designing a machine without a CD-drive, the need to boot from USB cannot be overstated. The ability to boot from the SD slot is just a gift. A warning: When you first boot a new OS off a CD, the MBR will mess with you. I had to format the drive into FAT before continuing with the install.

Hard drive – 30 gigs isn’t bad. The drive is “easy” to change, if you’re not afraid of screwdrivers and dissecting a 300-dollar piece of hardware. If you do install a new OS (I don’t know why you wouldn’t), I recommend a small one. Slackware and Puppy Linux ran well on it, albeit with the same wireless problems and the openchrome via driver for video. XFCE is a wonderful window manager on this machine, if you are determined to make this a Linux Netbook.

Windows is a massive bloat on this machine. A typical XP install is between 3 and 4.5 gigs. I heartily recommend getting nLite and making your own trimmed-down version of Windows. I used a Lite version designed for the Asus EeePc – full install between 750 MB and 1 gig. Once I installed all of Office 2007, I barely topped 2.7 gigs.

Default Gos
My current system, running XP.

Sound -The two speakers are mounted directly under the LCD, providing sound on par with the EeePC’s speakers mounted to either side. They are stereo, and about the size of 2 postage stamps; the sound is as good as can be expected. I can find no information on who produced the hardware, and short of opening the machine, I probably won’t be able to get you range specs.

The sound card is another matter altogether. It works in Linux with no problems, the ALSA Mixer controls are great. The Fn+F# hotkeys even work to control sound. In Windows, I am yet to get sound configured. If anyone has found a way, let me know. Strangely, the drivers provided by Sylvania do not even allow the computer to register that there is a sound card present in the machine. This is a major downfall for the Windows install.

**Fixed** <All drivers for this computer MUST be installed after service pack 2.  Any beta versions of SP3 will destroy them and render most hardware non-working.  If you only have service pack 1 installed, you will get bizarre errors, also.  > **Fixed**

Battery -battery life is substantial. I tend to average around 3.8 hours with wireless on, 4.7 and some change with it turned off (Of course this is with the system idling). The battery is the only part of this system that does not feel completely solid. It has a little wiggle in it, even when fully locked in place. Not detrimental, but not the best fit either. This is the only piece of the machine does not feel completely bulletproof, and it bothers me enough to show you this picture:

That's how much play is in the battery, but only on one side.

DC Connector – Loose power connections on a laptop are the worst. That is no fear with the G Netbook. Its connector is so tight it is almost frightening. I’m afraid I’m going to just snap the connector off the Motherboard. This hasn’t happened, yet, so I will assume that it is attached on the inside with more than just 2 micro solders. The choice for an “L” shaped connector I find awkward, because if the L bends towards you, it blocks the USB ports. An “In Line” connector would have made a much more functional choice. If you’re an at home modder, though, go ahead and change it.

Summary

The machine is a great set of hardware for the price. The support for it, however, leaves so much to be desired that it is almost ridiculous. If you’re a Linux wizard and want a machine to tinker with that has almost unlimited potential (for the hobbyist) as a netbook, it’s a great buy. Despite my hatred for Windows, I have to recommend it as an alternative to the default Gos. It makes a far superior use of the provided hardware. For the money, I feel it’s the best deal on the market (for a ballpark 300, I wouldn’t pay too much more than that). If you can’t abide the hassle of customizing the system to your own needs, check out an EeePc. [If anyone would like to donate one, I would gladly review it side by side… <wink wink, nudge nudge>]

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Why I Love Apple http://tipsfor.us/2007/08/27/why-i-love-apple/ Tue, 28 Aug 2007 03:01:39 +0000 http://tipsfor.us/?p=157 Continue reading Why I Love Apple ]]> macbook_white.jpgI bought a white Macbook mere hours after they were first released. It’s a beautiful machine, and I have enjoyed every moment with it so far. Some of its common uses include: giving presentations to my classes (with Keynote), computer-based music notation, recording musicians, and writing essays (lots of them!). Heck, I even use the built-in camera to record my conducting lessons (via iMovie)!

However, my machine has not been without flaw. Since it’s a revision “A” product, I’ve experienced some of the bugs that have plagued the first generation Macbooks. First of all, my Macbook “mooed,” but a firmware update took care of that.

Second of all, the shell around the touchpad (the “palm-rests”) became discolored, but I probably should have washed my dirty paws a little better before using the machine. 🙂

Third, my Macbook developed a distracting “screen flicker” problem. I thought I could live with it for a while, but the flickering increased in severity, sometime blacking out the screen for seconds at a time. I had enough.

About two weeks before my complementary one-year warranty expired, I purchased the Applecare extended warranty. Once classes ended, I zipped over to the Kansas City Apple Store and showed the flickering problem to the local techs. “No problem,” the “genius” told me, “I’ve seen this before. We’ll send it to Apple to replace the display inverter.” This was at 12:30 PM on a Tuesday.

The next morning, my doorbell rang at 10 AM. Upon opening the door, I was greeted a smiling young delivery driver who had a package for me. I thought it was only some books that I had ordered, so imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found… my Macbook!

In less than 24 hours my Macbook had traveled to an Apple repair facility in Tennessee, had some parts replaced, and then sent straight to my doorstep.

That’s not all. When I first lifted the Macbook’s lid, my first thought was, “This is NOT my laptop!” The discolored areas where my dirty paws had rested were now immaculately white.

I checked the serial number, and to my surprise, it WAS the same laptop. Intrigued, I read the paperwork that Apple prepared for me. They did A LOT more than just fix the screen flicker.

  • As expected, they replaced the parts required to stop the flickering display.
  • They “identified an issue with my hard drive” and replaced it with a new one.
  • They “identified an issue with my battery” and replaced it with a new one.
  • They noticed the discoloration by the touchpad and replaced that part of the shell for me!

All of this was completed within 24 hours, and none of it cost me an extra penny! All I can say is thank goodness for Applecare.

Apple, you are a model of efficiency, and for going the extra mile to replace those additional parts, you have earned my wholehearted support and recommendation.

And that, my friends, is why I love Apple.

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Linksys WRT54GL http://tipsfor.us/2007/01/12/linksys-wrt54gl/ Sat, 13 Jan 2007 05:48:01 +0000 http://tipsfor.us/?p=54 Continue reading Linksys WRT54GL ]]> Recently I bought a new wireless router – a Linksys WRT54GL. Interestingly, there are numerous open-source, Linux-based firmwares available for this router that unlock new features. Once can commonly hear it described as “turning a $60 router into a $600 router for free” just by upgrading the firmware.

I haven’t attempted this yet, but perhaps I will soon. Presumably, by upgrading the firmware one can boost the wireless signal, turn of SSH access, prioritize bandwidth allotment for certain computers and/or programs, and allow static DHCP, among other options.

My new router is working just fine right now with its stock firmware, but perhaps I’ll be daring and put Linux on it some weekend.

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Death of the DSL Modem http://tipsfor.us/2006/09/24/death-of-the-dsl-modem/ http://tipsfor.us/2006/09/24/death-of-the-dsl-modem/#comments Sun, 24 Sep 2006 22:41:00 +0000 http://tipsfor.us/?p=33 Continue reading Death of the DSL Modem ]]> It’s that time of year again. The weather is cooling, the leaving are changing color, and the 2Wire DSL modem dies a painful death. Yes, that’s right. Just like last year, my POS DSL modem gave up the ghost again. To be fair, lightning was to blame last year. This year, it sputtered and finally popped all on its own, and I have no idea why. Perhaps e-coli is the real culprit here?


Last year I made the mistake of buying a brand new modem from the SBC DSL store – after fighting my way through various script readers in India named “Sarah” asking if I tried deleting my cookies, I finally got ahold of a native speaker who swiftly separated me from over $100 in exchange for YACCM (Yet Another Crappy Chinese Modem). I’ve learned my lesson now.

Rather than spend another $100+ on YACCM, I’m monitoring eBay for an older model of 2Wire modem (1000HW). With only thirteen minutes left, I’m a current high bidder on one right now (at $5.50). After watching a few other sales, I’m sure I can get one for less than $20. Sure I’ll sacrifice 802.11g speed for 802.11b. No problem. I’m also saving over $80.

It may be YACCM, and it may not last more than a year, but given my experience, neither do the new ones either.

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System guts updated http://tipsfor.us/2006/09/17/system-guts-updated/ Sun, 17 Sep 2006 21:37:11 +0000 http://tipsfor.us/?p=29 Continue reading System guts updated ]]> The motherboard on my main machine (P4 2.66, Intel 865PE) started going south a week ago. I experienced a few hard locks and infamous blue screens (the stop errors of which are impossible to decipher). The biggest problem was that after a reboot, the mother board would start its POST procedure, count the RAM, and freeze. After a few minutes, it would reboot on its own and repeat the procedure. When the planets aligned correctly, it would boot perfectly and run for several hours before crashing again.

I need to use this machine every day for graduate work in music composition, so this kind of behavior is unacceptable. So, I decided to upgrade a few key parts. My first option was to purchase another socket 478 motherboard, but along with dwindling availablility, it did not seem to make sense to invest in such “old” tech. Also, I’d been out of the hardware loop for a while, so I had some research to do.

The first thing I noticed was that Intel Core 2 Duo seemed to be king. While that seemed great, I dismissed it based on two things: 1) price 2) I don’t want to splurge on DDR2 yet. I just bought 2 gigs of DDR 400 this past spring, and I want to recycle it. This also ruled out the AM2 platform.

Due to the attraction of the prices, I set my sights on socket 939. Call me old, but it seems to me that socket 939 is still “quite new.” I remember clearly when it was introduced, and I also remember the high costs of the “top of the line” processors back then, such as the 3000+. I was quite pleased to see that as of this writing, the AMD64 3000+ is only a measly $64 on Newegg (how appropriate!). Call me miserly (as well as old), but I don’t like to spend more than $100 on a CPU, since hardly anything depreciates faster than CPU speed. With that in mind, I selected the AMD64 3700+ with 1 MB of L2 cache. Dual-core would have been nice, but I can always upgrade to a dual-core socket 939 CPU in a couple years when the prices are much lower.

Choosing a motherboard was much more difficult. The most popular chipset series for socket 939, Nvidia’s Nforce4, was ruled out. There have been documented problems in the past with Nforce4 and audio production, and while these problems have probably been minimized now, they have left scars that are slow to heal in the audio world. I’m not just popping in a generic Soundblaster card, I need to make sure this board works with my MOTU 828 without the slightest glitches, pops, or distortions. The ridiculous gimmick (in my opinion) known as “SLI” is ruled out for the same reason.

Nforce3, on the other hand, is practically legendary in the audio world for its compatibility and reliability. Unfortunately, trying to find a good Nforce3 board is practically hopeless, as supplies have almost completely dried up. Rather than scour the Web looking for an Nforce3 board that I liked, I decided it was finally time to make the move from AGP to PCI-express anyway, so that ruled out Nforce3.

This pretty much leaves VIA. While they’re perhaps not the most reputable of chipset makers, I have not had a bad experience with them yet. Their chipsets had a horrible reputation for audio work in the sub – 1 GHz days, but I’ve heard few complaints since then. Plus, I’ve had a VIA KT400-based motherboard for an Athlon XP that’s been running fine for 4 years now, so I decided to give them another shot.

The VIA K8T800Pro chipset was another practically-legendary chipset for audio (AGP-based). Its PCI-express-based successor is the K8T890. I found a version that I liked in the ASUS A8V-E SE. No, it’s probably not the fastest board on the block, nor does it sport the most complete feature set, but it’s a good, basic board, and I bet it will perform swimmingly for my needs. As a bonus, it does not come with one of those annoying, whiny north bridge fans, which tend to fail after a few months.

Speaking of fans, the last piece needed was a new video card. I already possess what consider a very good video card (Nvidia 6800GS), but since I’m finally moving to PCI-express, that one had to go. It will soon be relegated to my wife’s Athlon XP machine, and I’m sure she’ll be happy with the upgrade. Since I was going to be spending money on a new card, I did not want to take a lateral step. I wanted a card that would actually be considered an upgrade, without breaking the bank. With that in mind, I had one other requirement: NO FAN! Most stock GPU fans are far too loud, in my opinion. Like all moving parts, they can also fail.

I thought it would be very difficult to find a fanless upgrade from a 6800GS. Lo and behold, I found this: a Gigabyte 7600GT without a fan. Yes, it’s a few dollars more than the fan-equipped 7600GTs, but complete silence is golden in my mind.

That completes the new system guts.
Intel P4 2.66 —> AMD Athlon64 3700+
MSI 865PE —> ASUS K8T890
Nvidia 6800GS —> Nvidia 7600GT

I’ll re-use my Antec Sonata case and PSU, RAM, drives, and other accessories. No, it’s not the fastest machine around, and it still has one core, but I’ll be happy with it as long as everything assembles without a hitch. I need a quiet, stable, reliable machine for my work (plus occasional diversions into Guild Wars and Oblivion), and I’m sure this will keep me happy and productive for years to come.

Note: this post is also duplicated on this thread at ManicGeeks.

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