27 Mar 2009 @ 3:06 PM 
No Gravatar

“Comcast got me online through Google, but the internet won’t work”.

Tags Categories: IT Life Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 27 Mar 2009 @ 03 06 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)

 25 Mar 2009 @ 9:07 PM 
No Gravatar

In trying to come out of the recent writing slump I am in, I decided to publish this post I wrote on the Maximum PC forums last year.  This was inspired by some recent activity on Twitter tonight.

Building your own PC is usually a little more expensive than buying one off the shelf, but if you do it right, it can be a very satisfying experience.  In many cases you can end up with a much better quality machine that what you’d get from a retail vendor.

Choosing the right components is key to a good experience.  Don’t go for the cheapest components you can get.  You get what you pay for.  Spend a little extra cash and you’ll fare better in the long run.

There are 3 components that are the most important to consider.  You should never skimp on these:

1 – Power Supply

You need to make sure your feed enough juice to your beast.  Even if you are going fairly mid-range, or low-end, don’t be afraid to give yourself more wattage than what you think you’ll need.  It’ll give you a little more room to grow down the road.

2 – Chassis

Just like people, your PC needs adequate shelter.  A good chassis is one that has plenty of room for upgrades, and is designed for good ventilation with nice big 120MM fans.  Heat is the number one enemy to PCs and the chassis is pretty much what provides the cooling.  If you are planning to place the PC in your living room or other public area then sound can be an issue.  A higher quality chassis will generally rattle less and be more quiet.  Many of these have features such as rubber grommets for the hard drive mounts to minimize vibration which cuts down on noise.  If you are concerned about noise, one VERY quiet case that I have experienced first hand is the Antec Sonata III 500.  Another added benefit is it has a locking front door to hide the CD drives and power switch which will keep your kids from messing with it when you don’t want them to.  Many chassis have that same feature.  Another thing to look for, especially if you have pets, is a removable/washable air filter.  It’ll keep your vital components and heat sinks from clogging up with dust.

3 – Motherboard

This is the foundation of your system and therefore the most important component.  If you choose wisely, you can get a board that will support anything from a cheapo Celeron to a Quad-Core CPU.  This can give you a great deal of room to upgrade.  You can drop in a less expensive CPU now, and the next year when the prices on better CPUs plummet, you can drop in one of those.  Personally I like Intel motherboards.  My last IT company I worked for built systems for companies and we used strictly Intel boards.  We built hundreds of systems and very few had problems.  We experimented with other brands, but for dependability we didn’t like them as much.  However, many people are happy with MSI, ASUS, and other brands.  Also, if you aren’t planning to use it for gaming, I’d suggest getting a board with onboard video.  It will probably save you a few bucks. You can easily find one that also has a PCIE slot for future expansion.

-Mike

Tags Categories: Tech in General Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 27 Mar 2009 @ 03 04 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)

 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:32 PM 
No Gravatar

How to Defragment your Hard Drive

This tip is an oldie but a goodie.  Since nearly the dawn of the age of hard drives, it has been necessary to use defragmentation utilities to maintain a certain level of performance on your computer.  Even still, the concept of defragging is foreign to most computer users.  I am sure many of you are asking yourselves, “How to do what?  What the heck is defragging?”.

Ok, let me explain.  Inside of your computer, there is a device called a hard drive.  This is where Windows, all of your programs, and all of your data are stored.  The hard drive is in fact one of the few components of your comptuer that has moving parts.  Inside of the hard drive there are several disks stacked on top of each other, spinning at great speed, usually around 5,400 to 7,200 RPM.  To read and write information to and from the hard drive, a little tiny arm has to move back and forth across the surface of the disk looking for the information that is being requested.  That is the clicking or “percolating” noise, as some people call it, that your computer makes when it seems to be working very hard.  The sound you hear is that arm running back and forth like crazy looking for stuff.

As you use your computer, you are constantly writing and editing and adding and deleting stuff on your hard drive, even without realizing it.  Over time, information on your hard drive gets broken into little pieces (fragments), all mixed together.  That poor little read/write arm has to work harder and harder to find the stuff it needs.  This can cause your computer to run slower than it should, and can cause other issues like lock-ups and crashing programs.

Think of Windows as an 8 year old kid, and think of your hard drive as a room full of Lego sets.  At first, each set is in a nice neat little package, and the 8 year old kid can go right to town and build some amazing stuff without hardly thinking at all.  The problem is, 8 year old kids are usually very bad at putting their toys away when they’re done with them.  They sometimes try to do a good job, but there’s always a stray peice that gets lost under the couch somewhere, and the peices never ever get put back exactly the way they were, and before long you just have a giant bin of multi colored blocks.  Now in order for the 8 year old kid to build anything, he has to go digging and sifting through all those pieces to finally get what he needs.

Your hard drive has now become fragmented.  It needs to be defragmented.  This requires a responsible adult (defragmentation program) to whip the 8 year old kid (Windows) into shape.

This tutorial focuses on running the Disk Defragmenter utility in Windows XP.  If you are running Windows Vista or the beta version of Windows 7, Microsoft has completely changed the defrag utility in those versions of Windows.  I’ll get into those differences later on in this article.  If you aren’t interested in running defrag on Windows XP, skip a bit brother.

Step 1 – Close all running programs (except for this article of course), because Windows can’t defragment files that are in use.  Even better, go along your system tray in the lower-right hand corner of your screen and right-click on each little icon there.  If there’s an “Exit” or “Quit” option, do it.  These things will load back up the next time you restart your computer if you need them.  Disable your antivirus software if you are able to, but don’t forget to turn it back on later.  You should also delete all of your temporary files (see previous Tip).

Step 2 – Launch the Disk Deframenter.  You do this by clicking Start, then All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, then finally Disk Defragmenter.  If you can’t find it, just click Start, then Run.  In the box that pops up, type “dfrg.msc” and click OK.  You should now have the Disk Defragmenter window open.

defrag

 

Step 3 (Optional) - Make sure drive “C:” is highlighted, and click the “Analyze” button.  Windows will come back and tell you whether or not your drive needs to be defragmented.  In either case, click the “View Report” button.  The report is rather confusing, but scroll down and just pay attention to the lines that say “Total Fragmentation” and “File Fragmentation”.  This will give you an idea of how badly fragmented your drive is.  If either number is around 10%, that’s not bad at all and you probably don’t need to defrag.  Anywhere around 10% and 20% I would consider “moderately” fragmented, and 20% to 30% I would consider “heavily” fragmented.  Any higher than that, and I would recommend running the defrag at least twice.  Go ahead and click “Close” on the report window.

defragreport

 

Step 4 – Click the “Defragment” button.  You’ll notice the there’s a “before defragmentation” and “after defragmentation” graph in the window.  The colors are pretty self explanatory if you read the key at the bottom of the window.  When the defragmentation is complete, you should see very little red areas, and there should be less space between the blue and green areas.  If you run defrag two or three times consecutively, and there’s still a lot of red, then your hard drive might have a problem.  Seek out a higher order geek to get some advice on what to do.

defragprogress1

 

Step 5 – Take a break.  This usually takes 10 or 15 minutes or so to complete if you do it regularly, but can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.  It’s pointless to stare at your screen the whole time, so go do something constructive!  Your significant other will be very impressed that you voluntarily took a break from the computer for a while.  Wait for the Disk Defragmenter to finish, then turn your antivirus software back on and reboot if you want to get your tray icons back.

Step 6 (Optional) - Depending on your computer, you might have other drive letters listed in the Disk Defragmenter window.  The utility only lets you defragment one drive letter at a time, so you might want to kick off another defrag on the remaining drive letters, one by one.

Now for the really geeky stuff.  As mentioned above, defragmentation is completely different on Windows Vista and Windows 7.  For the most part, defragmentation happens automatically in those editions of Windows.  You actually can’t manually defrag in Windows Vista unless you go to the command prompt and type some complicated stuff.  Windows 7 lets you manually defrag, but there are still many limitations to the software that comes bundled with Windows, even the defragmentation software in Windows XP.  If you have Vista or are planning to get Windows 7, or if you want something that does a better job than the Windows XP program, I’d highly suggest a third party defragmentation program.  The program I have come to rely on is Diskeeper.  That link will take you to a comparison chart of their various editions.  For most users, the Home or Professional edition should be fine.  Diskeeper will automate the defragmentation process so you never have to think about it, and for you higher level geeks it lets you get deeper into the Windows file system and defragment the bits that the Windows utility leaves out.

I hope that you enjoyed this week’s tip and found it useful.  I took a risk in going into a little more detail than was necessary, but I feel it is important to understand a little about what a hard drive is and how it works.  If you’d like to know more about what makes your computer work, and learn about words like ‘hard drive”, “processor”, “ram”, and “motherboard”, I am considering adding a “Computer Term of the Month” section to my blog.  Please use the comments section to give me some feedback.

Thanks!

-Mike

Tags Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Tip of the Week
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 19 Feb 2009 @ 10 58 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (1)

 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:02 AM 
No Gravatar

Lord, grant me the humility to accept the things I do not know,

The wisdom to seek out those who do,

And the resourcefulness to use Google or RTFM when all else fails.

Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: IT Life
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2009 @ 08 51 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (1)

 13 Feb 2009 @ 10:19 PM 
No Gravatar

Running CleanUp!

For this week’s tip, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite utilities, “CleanUp!”  which is published as “freeware” by an independent programmer named Steven Gould.  According to the website, the software is compatible with all Windows versions from 95 through XP, but I’ve also run it on Windows Vista and Windows 7 without any problems.

Basically, what this thing does is delete all the crap that Windows and Internet Explorer creates.  There’s tons of junk on your computer called “temporary files”.  There are various places where they come from.  Commonly they are files temporarily downloaded to your computer from browsing the web, or files left over from installing programs.

Windows XP has a built-in cleanup utility, but it doesn’t do a very good job.  It does a very basic cleanup and it only deletes files from your own user account.  The nice thing about CleanUp! is it goes much deeper than the Windows utility and as long as you run it from a user account that has Administrator rights, it will go into each and every user folder and delete all the temporary files it finds.  This is very useful if, for instance, you have one computer in your house that all members of your household share.  If they each have their own username, then they also each have their own set of temporary files.

So, let me take you on a walk-through of using this program.  It’s pretty simple, but there are a few tweaks I like to use to make it more effective.

Disclaimer:  Though I have never had an issue with this program deleting something I didn’t want it to, there is a small risk that you will lose something important.  Make sure you have a good backup of your important files before continuing.  Also, running this program with the settings I describe below WILL delete all of your cookies and clear any saved passwords for websites.

Step 1 – Download/install the program from Steven Gould’s website at www.stevengould.org.  You should now have the program open and running.  Go ahead and click the “Options” button.

cleanup1

Step 2 – On the Options window, under “Quick Setup”, move the slider bar to “Standard Cleanup”.  Don’t go any higher than that, or you’re likely to write me an angry email later.  Now, if you’re running this at work, you might also want to un-check the “Enable Sounds” check box.  Otherwise, when you run the cleanup, it will play a sound effect of a toilet flushing.  This will no doubt cause some prairie dogging around your cubicle area.

cleanup2

Step 3 – Click the “Temporary Files” tab.  I generally like to enable this setting, it will delete a few more file types.  The only one you might want to remove from the list is *.bak, which is sometimes used as a backup file.  I have found that the program can sometimes be caps sensitive, so add *.TMP, as well as *.log and *.LOG.

cleanup3

Step 4 – Click “OK” to close the Options window, then click the “CleanUp!” button to start the process.  If you’re running it for the first time, it will ask you if you want to run in demonstration mode which will run through the process without actually deleting any files.  If you’re cautious, go ahead and click “No” and you’ll be able to read the log file afterwards to see what would have been deleted.  If you do this, you will have to close the program and re-launch it from the Start Menu in order to get it out of demonstration mode.

cleanup4

Step 5 – Sit back and watch as the “Files Deleted” and “Bytes Freed” counters start to climb.  I’ve sometimes removed several GBs of data with this program.  After it finishes, it will tell you the grand total of disk space recovered, and ask you if you want to make a donation.  This guy puts the software out for free, but it’s considered good etiquette to toss him some money if you enjoy the program and find it useful.  To set a good example, I donated $20 to him before writing this article.  Since I’ve run this hundreds of times on hundreds of PCs, I consider $20 a bargain.  When you close the program, it will suggest that you log off to delete some files that were in use and couldn’t be deleted.  This isn’t completely necessary, but is advisable.

cleanup5

So that’s it, you’re done!  I usually always run this program before defragging my hard drive or running a virus scan.  It’s a little pointless to defrag temp files, and it will also make your virus scan run faster because your virus software won’t have to churn through all that crap.  If you don’t know what defragging is, you should keep an eye out for my next blog post.

-Mike

Tags Tags: , , , ,
Categories: Tip of the Week
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2009 @ 08 51 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (1)

 01 Feb 2009 @ 11:41 PM 
No Gravatar

1- You go to Best Buy for no other reason than to gaze at shiny things.

2 – You casually shake your head and smirk when over hearing a conversation between a Best Buy salesperson and a customer, and resist the urge to jump in and correct the situation.

3- You’d rather die than call the Geek Squad.

4- You know that 101 = 5.

5- You know that 1337 is not a number.

6- You use your PC as a space heater in the winter.

7- Your PC drastically reduces the efficiency of your A/C unit in the summer.

8- You know DOS commands.

9- You can sometimes get stuff done faster at the command line than in the GUI.

10- You know the answer to the question: “Who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo?”

11- You ponder over things like the best way to implement complete Internet-delivered TV content in your house.

12- You know the difference between a megabit and a megabyte, and are annoyed by people who claim to have a 54 megabyte per second Internet speed.

13- You know Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics.

14- You wonder why the creators of Skynet didn’t hard-code Asimovs three laws into their systems.

15- When the iPod first came out, you couldn’t understand why people went so crazy over just another MP3 player.

16- You own a wrist watch that is radio synchronized to the national atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado.

17- You periodically dial 303-499-7111 just to be sure.

18- You know that tucked away somewhere in a dark dusty closet you have some 5.25″ floppy disks.

19- You know that RAID is not just a pesticide.

20- You purposely leave your WiFi unlocked and use MAC address filtering just to mess with your neighbors.

21- You laugh at scenes of The Big Bang Theory when others just look confused.

22- Arthur C. Clarke is one of your personal heroes.

23- You know that a light year is not a measurement of time.

24- You get phone calls from people you havn’t talked to in months that start off with “Hey dude, so uh, I was sort of deleting stuff last night, and…”

25- Your remote control costs the same as your cell phone.

Do you have something you’d like to add to the list?  Use the Comments section!

-Mike

Tags Tags:
Categories: IT Life
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2009 @ 08 55 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (2)

 30 Jan 2009 @ 8:39 PM 
No Gravatar

How to Fix Internet Explorer 7

As a way to get in the habit of posting more often, I have decided to do a Tip of the Week.

I have given this one out 3 or 4 times this week, so I figured it was a good place to start.

This particular tip assumes that you are using Internet Explorer 7 or higher.  How can you tell which one you have?  Well, if your Internet Explorer icon has a golden halo around it, you are on IE7.

ie6icon-thumb.jpg ie7-thumb.jpg
IE6 Icon IE7 Icon

The other way to tell is IE7 has tabs and IE6 does not.  To be completely sure, you can just click “Help” on Internet Explorer’s menu, and then click “About Internet Explorer”.

If you don’t have IE7, go and get it right now, then come back here.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.  It has better features and is more secure than IE6.

Now if you’ve been using your computer for a while, you probably noticed that Internet Explorer has gradually become less and less efficient.  Maybe it crashes a lot, or displays weird error messages, or maybe you have a bunch of different toolbars like the MSN Toolbar, Yahoo Toolbar and maybe a few more that you don’t want and don’t know how they got there.  This crap is fairly hard to avoid, because every time you download a “Free” application you want, they almost always bundle in one of these toolbars and unless you know enough to de-select that option, you’re going to get it whether you want it or not.  The latest version of Java, for instance, bundles in the MSN Toolbar.  There are other  things like add-ins and ActiveX controls that accumulate, but they are hidden and hard to see.

To keep your IE7 nice and clean and shiny and new like the day you installed it, just follow these simple steps:

1- In Windows XP, click “Start” then “Run.”  In the box that pops up, type “inetcpl.cpl”, then click OK.

In Windows Vista or Windows 7, click the round Windows icon in the lower left corner, and type “inetcpl.cpl” in the search box, and hit “Enter” on your keyboard.

This will open the Internet Explorer Properties window.  There are other ways to get there, but I find this is the easiest.

2- Click the “Advanced” tab, then click the “Reset…” button.

3- Read the resulting window carefully.  What you are about to do is reset IE7 back to factory default settings, which will remove all toolbars and add-ins, clear your Internet history and cookies, and clear all saved passwords for web sites.

4- Hit the “Reset” button and wait patiently for the process to complete.  Depending on how mucked-up your IE7 is, this could take a few minutes.

5- Close all Internet Explorer windows, and open it back up again.  IE7 should then take you through the setup wizard.  It can be a little confusing, but just choose the options you think are best and click “Save your Settings”.

And you’re done!  I hope you found this helpful to you, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to use the comment section below.

-Mike

Tags Tags: , , , ,
Categories: Tip of the Week
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2009 @ 08 52 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (1)

 24 Jan 2009 @ 8:39 PM 
No Gravatar

Ok, I just HAVE to share this one.  I deal with silly computer issues all the time *cough*duane*cough*mim*cough* but this one is priceless…

So I get a call from this person who shall remain nameless.  She’s having all kinds of computer issues, it keeps locking up, etc.  I begin troubleshooting and the conversation goes something like this:

“Ok, what I want you to do is shut off your computer, so press and hold the power button for about 10 seconds and then release it.”

“Ok.”

“Did it turn off?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, turn it back on and tell me what comes up on the screen.”

(less than 3 seconds later)

“Ok, I see my icons and stuff.”

I think to myself… hmmm… That’s odd… I thought she said it was running SLOW.

Thinking she accidentally put the computer in “standby” mode instead of turning it off, which commonly happens, I have her repeat the steps again.  We end up going through this three times.

After the fourth time, I am getting a little exasperated.

“Ok, is it off?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, what I want you to do is actually look under the desk and tell me if you see any lights on the font of the computer.”

“Wait…  The computer or the modem?”

“The computer.”

“Well my computer is on top of my desk.”

“It is?  They are usually on the floor.  What kind of computer do you have?”

“It says Samsung on it.”

Now, for those of you reading this who may not know, Samsung does not make computers.  They do, however, make computer SCREENS.  Yes, this person thought the screen was actually the computer.  She thought her computer was the modem.

So, anyway it ends up she has a bad hard drive so I have her ship the PC to us.  I replace the hard drive, and send it back.

Sure enough, as I expected, I get a call from her the next day.  I assumed she would have trouble hooking it up.  She actually did better than I thought, the only thing not working was her speakers.

After verifying that her speakers were plugged into power and turned on, and the volume turned op on the speakers and on the PC, I go to the next logical step which was to make sure she has them plugged into her computer correctly.

This went on for 45 minutes and repeated the following sentence several times:

“I don’t know how else to explain this to you.  You’re looking for a little green colored hole, the same size and shape as a headphone jack on a CD player or iPod.  It will be next to a blue colored hole and a red or pink colored hole.   Plug the speakers into the green one.”

She kept insisting it wasn’t there.

“No, it HAS to be there.  ALL computers with sound have this.  I KNOW you have it because I SAW it when you shipped it to us.  Look again, really closely.”

“Ok, I see a green one next to a purple one.”

Hmmm… well, I guess red could look like purple, an not all of them have a blue one, so let’s go with it.

“Ok, try plugging it in there.”

“It won’t fit.”

Come to find out, she was trying to plug it into the mouse port which doesn’t look anything like what I described to her.

I ended up telling her I had to go take an emergency call and to call me back when she found the plug.

That was a week ago.  No phone call yet!

-Mike

Tags Tags: ,
Categories: IT Life
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2009 @ 08 52 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)

No Gravatar

My dad got me a Slingbox Solo for Christmas, the amazing device which lets you watch the TV programming in your house from any PC with an Internet connection, and also from most modern smart phones.   I finally got the chance to set it up last night.  I was amazed at how easy it was to install and configure!  It only took me about an hour and a half and that included the time to cut and crimp a patch cable long enough to run from the Slingbox in the living room to the router in the computer room.  I intend to use an Ethernet over powerline adapter later.  I linked to one of many of those devices, and Sling has a version too.

So making up the cable took about 10 to 15 minutes, and then another 30 minutes was taken up by trying to get the IR transmitter to work. You see, in order for the Slingbox to be able to control your cable box and change channels, it uses an IR transmitter which adheres to the outside of your cable box and sits in front of the IR sensor, thus controlling the cable box as if you were using your remote control.  The Slingbox Pro has a built-in TV tuner, so you have the option of not using the IR transmitter with that product.  The IR transmitter hookup should have been a breeze, but I ran into a very strange bug in the setup.  During the software install, the setup wizard has you choose the make and model of your cable box from a list.  I have the Pace TDC-575D from Comcast, so I chose that.  I must have darted back and forth about a dozen times from the computer to the TV and back again, repositioning the IR transmitter and testing, then trying again.  Finally, at my wits end, I did a little searching on the Slingbox forums.  Turns out, with that particular model, it only works if you select “Other” for the manufacturer, and then choose “Option 5″ for the transmit code.  Very frustrating, but I was glad I didn’t have a defective unit which is what I was fearing.

Once that was sorted, the rest of the install took only minutes.  In no time at all, I was channel surfing in the SlingPlayer software on my TV.  About five minutes after that, I had their mobile application downloaded and installed on my Windows Mobile 5 cell phone from Verizon, and was watching TV on it over my WiFi connection.  But, wait!  They say it will also work over EVDO… will it?   Yep!  A little jerky sometimes, but good enough!  The mobile app is a 30 day free trial, after that it costs $30.  The next step was to watch my TV in Internet Explorer, and all that took was an ActiveX install and it was up and running.  It worked in Firefox also after installing a Plugin.

slingbox-tv.jpg Slingbox_OnDemand

SlingPlayer on a PC

You can even access OnDemand

Slingbox_MobileSm

 

 

Slingbox_MobileFull

 

 

SlingPlayer Mobile on an XV6700

And here it is in landscape mode

 

Now, tonight I had the bright idea of hooking up my XBox 360.  I am currently using my 360 to stream video from my media server to my TV via TVersity.  TVersity will also stream through a web browser, but will not stream to my phone.  If I can get my XBox to work with the Slingbox, I can have everything!  Not to mention, Microsoft just recently paired up with Netflix to offer on-demand videos through the XBox 360.  It wasn’t clear how to configure the XBox in the Slingbox software, so I had to do a little digging.  Again the instructions from Sling were a little off.  Sling’s web site said to configure it as a DVD player, but instead I had to configure it as a DVR and choose “Microsoft Media Center” as the type.  The video streaming and remote control worked very nicely!  On my PC, the on-screen remote changed to one that looks very much like the physical XBox remote they sell in the stores.  On my phone it was a little less intuitive, but I figured it out.  Two problems here.  One, since Microsoft redesigned the interface on the XBox, it no longer fills the whole screen, so the on-screen menus are barely readable on the phone.   Second, and most important, the Slingbox Solo only has one audio input.  I have to physically disconnect the audio coming in from the cable box, and hook up the audio coming from the XBox.  I suppose I could try a splitter, but the real solution would be to upgrade to the Slingbox Pro which has two audio inputs.

Slingbox_360

Here’s what the XBox 360 looks like in SlingPlayer

 

So, very cool indeed!  The only other major drawback is I can’t use it if my wife is home watching TV in the living room, because that’s where the cable box is.  I could pay for an extra box, but I think it is absurd that Comcast charges a monthly fee for that, so I refuse.  My other option is to run it off the IR sensor of a cable-ready TV.  If I use the TV in the computer room, that will also solve the need for the ethernet over powerline adapter.  Only problem is, that TV doesn’t have any A/V outputs.

Right now I am trying to decide if I want to upgrade to the Slingbox Pro, or just return it and put it towards a new flat screen.  I also going to be installing Boxee soon, which  is a program similar to TVersity, but allows access to many more Internet video sources than TVersity, such as Hulu.  According to Boxee’s developers, it will not stream from your PC to the web, only from your PC to your home network.  However, I am sure a web-accessible solution for Boxee will present itself in the future.  It is possible that Boxee will give me “good enough” TV content that I won’t need to stream direct from my cable box.  In fact, I am hoping Boxee will allow me to downgrade my cable package, but that’s a whole other blog topic.

Update 01/24/2009:  About a week after I wrote this, I exchanged the Solo for the Pro HD, and I am much happier with it.  I now don’t have to swap audio plugs if I want to access my XBox.  And also, because the Pro and Pro HD both have a built-in Cable TV Tuner, I can, for instance, watch The Big Bang Theory while my wife uses the DVR to catch up on the episode of The Bachelor she missed.

There’s one thing that really irked me, though.  I again had problems setting up the IR emitter.  I tried choosing the actual make/model of my cable box, and that didn’t work just like on the Solo.  So I tried the trick of using the generic “Option 5″ as I described above.  That also didn’t work.  I spent about an hour in a chat session, and two hours on the phone with Slingbox Support.  Their support was very good in my opinion, very patient, thorough, and knowledgeable, but they weren’t able to resolve the issue.  Thinking I had a defective box, I returned it for a new one.  Took it home, and had the same problem!  After an hour of mucking around, I got it to work by using generic code “Option 7″.  This really is unacceptable to me.  “Option 5″ on the Solo, “Option 7″ on the Pro HD, and the actual make/model selection doesn’t work?!  Comcast is the largest cable provider in the country, and assuming they use the same cable boxes in all of their markets, I am surprised that the folks at Sling let this slip by.  I posted about this in their forums, and hopefully they will fix it.  It must cost them a lot of money in product returns.

Those problems aside, I am very satisfied with the product!  I used it the other night to play a DVD from my XBox and stream it over to my wife’s netbook.  The netbook doesn’t have an optical drive (see previous blog), so having the Slingbox around is very convenient.

-Mike

Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: Tech in General
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2009 @ 08 56 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)

 20 Dec 2008 @ 2:11 PM 
No Gravatar

I purchased the Asus 1000HD for my wife for Christmas this year.  I seriously considered getting the model that comes with Linux, but since my wife is not nearly as geeky as me, I figured the Windows XP Home model would be a safer bet.

I spent an evening configuring it for  her, downloading Windows updates and installing software, and testing it out.  My general opinion is that this is a very cool device.  It is very slim and lightweight, and has a wired network port, VGA port, a MMC/SD card reader, 3 USB ports, 120GB hard drive, and of course built-in Wi-Fi.  The small, 10.2″ LCD screen took a little getting used to, but it is perfectly adequate for the intended use of the 1000HD which is email and web browsing.  Just don’t expect to do any serious multi-tasking or video and image editing.  Not only will the small screen make these activities cumbersome, but the 900MHz Celeron processor and 1GB of RAM just plain doesn’t have the horsepower.  It also seems to have plenty of battery power. I have been using it for an hour and a half this morning, and the battery is still at 46% and is estimating 1.25 hours left, so I’d expect to get  about 3 hours of straight use on a full charge, which is pretty good.


 

While setting the 1000HD up last night I did run into a few small pit falls, and maybe one large one, and I am going to highlight them below for you.  This isn’t intended to be a slam of this device, as I said it is very  nice, and well suited for the intended use of light duty.  I just want to point out some of the flaws you might want to be aware of before you purchase one for yourself.

The Screen Resolution

The 1000HD came with Microsoft Works pre-loaded.  I haven’t seen Works actually running in a long time, so I fired it up out of curiosity.  I was immediately presented with a dialog box informing me that my display resolution did not meet the minimum requirements for Microsoft Works and that a minimum resolution of 1024×768 was required for Works to display properly.  So I check and I’m running at 1024×600 due to the wide-screen format ratio (16:9) of the 1000HD’s LCD screen.  So I bump it up a notch to 1024×768, expecting to see a black border on either side of my screen in order to maintain the traditional format ratio (4:3).  Instead, to my surprise, the new 1024×768 resolution caused the display image to stretch beyond the edge of the screen.  I couldn’t see the top of my windows unless I pushed my mouse pointer to the top edge of the screen, and then the image would pan up so I could see the top of the windows, but then my Start Menu was not visible unless I pushed the mouse cursor back down to the bottom of the screen to make the display pan back down.  This will not do.  However, I notice that there is a “LCD Compress Mode” which sort of squishes the image from top and bottom to make it all fit on the screen.  But, it also makes everything distorted and scrunched down.  Browsing the web is not fun either because it cuts off the top and bottom edges of some lines of text.  Here is a screen snapshot, but you can’t see the distortion unless you click on it to blow it up to full size.

res1

Anyway, I just thought it was a little strange for Asus to bundle a software package with their device that cannot display properly at the native resolution of the device.  I set it back to 1024×600 and since I am uninstalling MS Works, this is not an issue for me.  The display resolution will actually go as high as 1920×1080, but anything higher than 1024×600 will cause the display to pan as I described.  I am assuming the higher resolutions are intended to be used with an external monitor since the 1000HD does have a VGA port.

The Keyboard

For the most part, the 1000HD’s keyboard is like any other laptop keyboard, maybe just a little smaller.  The main problem with the keyboard is the placement of the Right Shift key.  It is very inconveniently placed in my opinion.  I keep hitting either Enter or Up Arrow instead.  I have done it at least a few dozen times already while writing this.   It is a really big pain.  I am not a professional typist, but I do tend to use at least 8 or 9 fingers at once and in order to hit that Shift key while typing “properly”, I really have to stretch my pinky finger over.  It is either that or lift my right hand completely off the keys and move it to hit the Shift key and then move it back and continue typing.  The other big pet peeve of mine about portable devices is when there isn’t a button to turn off the touch pad.  I have a habit of hitting the touch pad while typing, which changes the insertion point, and then suddenly I am typing in the middle of a sentence in a paragraph I already typed.  The 1000HD does not include one of those buttons which, combined with the poor placement of the shift key, is causing me to slowly lose my mind while I try to type this article.

kb

Barring those design flaws, I found that although the keyboard is slightly cramped, it is fairly easy to type on and I hope my wife will not be as picky as I am.

The Optical Drive

Wait, what optical drive?  It does lack an optical drive (CD drive), and I knew that before I purchased it.  So far I think it is the only major drawback of this device, although most software these days can be purchased online and  downloaded  over the Internet.  If my wife wants to watch a movie on it, which is unlikely considering her computing habits, she’ll have to download one or purchase an external DVD drive which would seriously detract from the portability of the 1000HD.  She also won’t be able to view any picture CDs from friends, although more and more people are publishing their photos online anyway.

Here is the one  MAJOR thing, though.  If she ever screws up the device and has to re-install Windows, then what?  I flipped through the owners manual, expecting to find a paragraph explaining how to restore the 1000HD back to factory default settings by using the hidden system restore partition on the hard drive.  I was right about finding that paragraph, but I was wrong about the other little detail.  There is no recovery partition on the hard drive.  Asus includes a DVD!  What?  You are giving me a device that lacks an optical drive, and if I ever want restore Windows back to factory defaults I have to go and purchase another piece of hardware?  This just doesn’t make sense to me, especially considering that the 120GB hard drive is already split into two 60GB partitions.  Shame on you, Asus!  Luckily I am a geek, and I already own an IDE/SATA to USB adapter so I’ll be able to make my own external optical drive if I ever need to, but I don’t think the average consumer will appreciate it very much.

So, there you have it.  My opinion of the 1000HD and, incidentally, my very first blog posting.  Please take some time to post some feedback about this article.  I hope to be doing much more online publishing in the future, so if you liked this one, be sure to check back.  Thanks!

-Mike

Tags Tags: , , ,
Categories: Tech in General
Posted By: Mike
Last Edit: 25 Mar 2009 @ 09 31 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (4)




\/ More Options ...
Change Theme...
  • Users » 1
  • Posts/Pages » 14
  • Comments » 20
Change Theme...
  • VoidVoid « Default
  • LifeLife
  • EarthEarth
  • WindWind
  • WaterWater
  • FireFire
  • LightLight