Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lite-On SK-1688U/B Keyboard

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Works well and is pretty durable
Cons: Rubber feet wear off in a mess, remaining plastic is a little uneven

I bought this Lite-On SK-1688U/B Keyboard about 5 years ago, and I've been pretty happy with it. It's lasted longer than most generic keyboards, and though I've replaced it with the Logitech K120 Keyboard I still keep the Lite-On as a spare. I don't remember exactly what I paid for it, but it was around $10. My only problems with the keyboard have been the plastic feet on the bottom (detailed below), and the LED for the number lock key has dimmed by about 90% over all this time.

It's a standard black 104 key membrane switch keyboard with a QWERTY layout. Now there's a couple different QWERTY layouts - one with an L-shaped enter button, and one with a straight enter button. Whenever I use one with the L-shaped button, I'm constantly hitting enter instead of backslash and backslash instead of backspace. It annoys me, so I always make sure to get one like this with a straight enter button layout. It has no extra media, sleep or power buttons or anything of the sort. I occasionally hit one of these buttons on accident when moving my keyboard around, so I always make sure to get a keyboard like this that does not have them.

The keyboard measures 18" long and 7" deep. It's not heavy, but has a little more weight to it than most budget keyboards. It's about 1" tall in the front and 1.5" tall in the back, creating a slight forward angle even without the plastic stands on the bottom flipped out. If you use the stands, it adds an additional 3/4" or so to the height in the rear. While the stands are still in good condition, I haven't really used them very much due to the slight angle the keyboard already had when flat. There's no rubber non-slip surface on the bottom of the stands, so it tended to slide around a bit when I did use them.

There are 4 rubber coated plastic feet on the bottom of the keyboard - one in each corner. Unfortunately, the rubber wore off surprisingly fast. Not only that, but as it wore off it smeared black rubber marks all over my desk as the keyboard slid around a little bit here and there. It was surprisingly hard to remove from the desk surface, and I've found the feet underneath are not level. There's about 1/16" difference between the tallest one (right rear) and the shortest one (left rear). This makes the keyboard jostle around a bit as I type, despite the fact that it's a little heavier than my other one.

The keys themselves are about 3/8" tall and slightly concave on top which allows your fingers to sit on them nicely. Key travel is average, but they have a good feel to them and are quite responsive. They're also quiet - no clicking, clacking or ticking while typing. The letters painted on the keys haven't started to wear off yet, but the clear textured finish has - especially on the enter button, space bar, arrow keys and W/A/S/D keys that I use a lot. The letters are a little thin and the paint a little dull, also the left arrow key is also starting to become loose and wobble around, though it's still attached and functioning. I can still clearly feel the ridges on the F and J keys, and I can't complain for 5 years of heavy use.

There's not much trim around the groups of keys, nor around the outside of the keyboard. The trim in the front is rounded down and the sides have a sort of twist to make them lower in the corners than in the middle - but they strangely decided to leave all 4 corners of the keyboard squared. It has a 52" USB interface cable and is Plug-and-Play capable with any semi-modern operating system. The Lite-On SK-1688U/B Keyboard is made in China and backed up by a 1 year limited warranty.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Logitech K120 Keyboard



Rating:  5 out of 5

Pros: Slim, sleek, light-weight, durable and comfortable
Cons: None

When I purchased my new Logitech M515 Wireless Mouse a few months ago, I picked up this black Logitech K120 Keyboard to go along with it. My old Lite-On Keyboard was still functional after about 5 years, but a couple of it's buttons were wearing out and the rubber feet on the bottom were coming off, so it was due to be replaced anyway. There were a few things about the Logitech K120 Keyboard that persuaded me to purchase it instead of another keyboard.

First of all, it's a standard 104 key QWERTY keyboard. It has full sized function keys and no extra random buttons such as sleep, media controls or power buttons. I really don't like keyboards with those extra buttons, as I often find myself inadvertantly hitting them. It's really annoying when you're in the middle of something and accidentally put your computer to sleep or turn on some blaring music while someone is trying to sleep in the next room. The keys press firmly and quietly, and it's a pretty comfortable keyboard to type on.

The Logitech K120 is not a large keyboard. It's sleek, slim and light-weight - measuring about 18 inches long, 6 inches deep and 3/4 of an inch tall. The keys are only about a quarter of an inch tall, which I really like as it reduces key travel by about 50% compared to my previous keyboard. I type over 100 words per minute, and I really like when a keyboard doesn't become a limiting factor. There's also not a lot of extra space or trim around the keyboard, and there's none at all between the groups of keys. Keys that are closer together help to promote faster typing because they reduce the distance you have to move your fingers to get from one key to another.

The space bar is slightly curved at the bottom, making it a little deeper in the middle so it's easier to hit from different hand positions. It's not oversized, but that slight depth increase is definitely beneficial to me. The keys are durable and are supposed to last up to 10 million keystrokes - excluding the number lock key for some reason. The white characters are bright, bold and easy to read. The Logitech K120 Keyboard also features a spill resistant design, where liquid drains out of the keyboard through 2 small slots in the bottom.

The keyboard lays nice and flat, but also has a pair of plastic feet on the bottom that can be flipped down to raise the back of the keyboard an additional 3/4 of an inch. This tilts the keyboard about 8 degrees forward, and this is how I use my keyboard because it feels more comfortable and I don't have to lean forward far enough to be directly above the keyboard. The feet are just thin plastic, but they seem pretty durable and after a few months of usage I don't foresee having any problems with them. These plastic feet, as well as the bottom of the keyboard itself, have little pieces of rubber on the bottom to help keep the keyboard from sliding around on your desk.

Inside the retail box was a getting started guide (which was rather humorous as the only things it said were to turn the computer on and plug the keyboard in), an information sheet with various warnings about LEDs, lasers and warranty information, and the keyboard itself. The 5 foot long USB cable was neatly folded up, twist-tied and tucked under a cardboard flap to keep it from banging into the keyboard during shipping, and the whole keyboard was wrapped in a plastic bag to keep dust and dirt out.

Like most Logitech products, the K120 is backed up by a 3 year warranty. I have no trouble believing that the keyboard will still be in use long after the warranty is expired.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Logitech Harmony 300 Universal Remote Control


Rating: 1 out of 5
Pros: Sleek looking remote, controls up to 4 devices
Cons: Software doesn't support Linux, requires internet access, remote didn't work correctly

I'm a big fan of Logitech products, and I've had great results in the past from them. I have a Logitech K120 Keyboard, a Logitech M515 Wireless Mouse and a Logitech Dual Action Game Pad that I really love, as well as a regular wired Logitech M100 Mouse that I used before I picked up the wireless one. These were all outstanding products, so I had high hopes for the Logitech Harmony 300 Universal Remote Control as well.

It came in a retail blister pack, and featured an easy open back. I really like this type of packaging, as you can grab the corner and peel the reverse side of the package all the way down to the bottom and get to the stuff inside without breaking out some industrial strength scissors or a knife and risk damaging the contents. There was a quick-start guide, 2 Duracell AA batteries and a 2 foot USB cable included. The quick-start guide had basic instructions in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. The remote can control up to 4 devices including televisions, cable or satellite boxes, DVD players or VCRs.

First step, install the included batteries in the remote. Second, write down the manufacturer and model number from the back of your devices that you wish to use with the remote. Third, hook the remote up to a computer using the supplied USB cable. Go to myharmony.com and follow the on-screen instructions to create a Harmony account and install the My Harmony software to get the remote working with your devices. Sounds easy enough, and I figured it would be nice that there is no book full of a million different random codes to punch in to get my devices working. That, and then there's the fact that I usually lose my code book within a couple months of ownership and when I get a new television or finally pick up that Blu-ray player I've been putting off, I wouldn't be able to use my remote anymore.

The remote is about 9 inches long and 2.5 inches wide. It's about an inch tall at the bottom where the batteries go, and about a half inch tall in the front. It's fairly light-weight, weighing about 6 ounces. The 2 foot USB cable has a standard Type A plug that goes into your computer on one end, and Mini-B port on the other end which plugs into your Harmony remote. Strangely, it plugs directly into the front of the remote - right dead center in the front tip. While there's nothing wrong with that, it just seems like an odd place for it to go.

It's a pretty sleek looking remote, glossy black on the top and flat black on the bottom. It's a sexy looking remote, unfortunately the top really shows fingerprints and is a dust and hair magnet. It also looks like it would be comfortable to hold onto, but it's really not. Being so thin in the front, when you hold the remote it always feels like it wants to slide backwards out of your hand. It feels fine if you hold onto it near the bottom, but then you are unable to reach the buttons on the top half. The buttons are not back-lit (with the exception of the 4 device buttons that light up when you chose which device to control) and there is no LCD screen. To be fair though, it's an inexpensive remote and I did not expect a display and I only needed to control 2 devices.

It has a wide variety of buttons, including all the standard numbers, volume and channel controls, menu, exit and guide buttons, as well as standard play/stop/pause/etc. It also has arrow buttons in the center of the remote, some favorite buttons and even a one-touch Watch TV button at the top that can turn two devices on simultaneously. The buttons are all black rubber. They are firm and tight in their holes and are labeled clearly.

Anxious to try it out, it's time to program the remote and see how well it works! I opened up a new tab in Google Chrome and went to myharmony.com to program my remote. I clicked on the button labeled Setup my Harmony remote and... we're not off to a good start. I got a message stating:

This software doesn't support your browser or operating system. 
The following platforms are supported:
Microsoft® Windows XP or Vista with Internet Explorer 7+, or Firefox 3+
Microsoft® Windows 7 with Internet Explorer 8+ or Firefox 3+
Intel Mac OS® 10.4.8+ with Firefox 3+ or Safari 4+

Well that's a bit irritating. I use Google Chrome 99% of the time, and I use Linux Mint instead of Windows 7 part of the time as well. Oh well, if the remote works well I can deal with the setup. After all, I should only have to do it once and then it should work fine after that with no additional hassle. I installed Mozilla Firefox along side of Google Chrome and again went to myharmony.com to setup the remote. This time when I clicked the button, it worked fine. It asked me for my first and last name, what country I was from, my email address to use as a login, and a password. It also asked me for a security question in case I ever forget my password. There were only 5 questions to choose from, but they were pretty standard.

Next it had to download the software to my computer, which was 10.9 MB in size. The window said after the software installation was complete I would be directed to the next page automatically. The download took a few minutes, and the installation only took a minute or so. The window then went to the next page where I watched a spinning blue circle with some type of progress percentage in the middle for another minute. Next I was told to insert the batteries into the remote and connect it to the computer with the supplied USB cable to continue. Finally, it said I should write down the model numbers of my devices and then input them into the page so they could be placed on my remote and synced.

First I added my Philips DVD Player. The model number on the back says DPV5992/37, so I entered Philips for the manufacturer and DPV5992/37 for the model number.

Are you sure?
We didn't find the device you entered.
Please double-check that your device is:
Philips DPV5992/37
Yes, that's it.
No, that's not it.

I tried it again, omitting the /37 in case that was the problem, but I got the same result. I checked "Yes, that's it." to continue. It then gave me a drop-down box asking what type of device I was adding, and I selected "DVD, Blu-ray or VCR". It gave me a couple of check boxes to select the items that applied to my device, these included "It plays Blu-ray, DVDs", "It records on DVD", "It plays video tapes", "It plays radio" and "It plays Laserdiscs". The wording was a little strange, as my device plays DVDs but not Blu-rays, but I chose the first option anyway since I had to choose at least one.

The next screen asked me if I had the original remote that came with my device, because if I did then it may provide additional information to help add my device more completely and accurately. I selected "Yes, I have it". The following screen looked promising, it informed me that I was going to use my original remote to "teach" the Harmony remote about my device. I was to point the original remote at the bottom of my Harmony remote and then align the 2 remotes in a straight line about 3 inches apart. Next, I was supposed to press the Power On/Off button on the original remote.

Please try again. We are having trouble recognizing the command you are trying to teach.

I must teach or skip each command to proceed, the Back and Next buttons were both greyed out and unclickable. Ok, so I guess I skip the power. Next it asked me to press the 1 button on my original remote. I did this about 5 times, and got no response at all from the application any of the times. The Back and Next buttons were still greyed out and unclickable, all I could do was cancel adding my device or skip the 1 button as well. I skipped it and it popped up a box asking me if I wanted to continue trying to add my device. I obviously did, so I clicked yes and continued.

Next it asked me to push the Play button, no response from the program yet again. It was the Menu button after that, and again no response. Wow, this thing is turning out to be quite the piece of trash. Channel Up was the last button it asked for, and after I skipped that one too it returned me to the main "Add Your Devices" screen and said my Harmony 300 now controls 1 device. Before I tried it out to see if it really added it or not, I figured I would add my television as well.

I entered RCA for the manufacturer, and L42FHD37YX8 for the model number written on the back of the television.

Are you sure?
We didn't find the device you entered.
Please double-check that your device is:
RCA L42FHD3YX8
Yes, that's it.
No, that's not it.

Sigh. Yes, that's it. I selected "TV or Display" from the drop-down box, and selected "It can change channels" from the check boxes. The other boxes were "It has a built-in DVD player", "It has a built-in VCR", "It has a built-in hard disk" and "None of the above". None of those applied to me, so I clicked Next.

Again, yes I have the original remote. "Please try again. We are having trouble recognizing the command you are trying to teach." This time at least, pointing the original remote at the back of the Harmony and pressing the indicated buttons worked correctly, and I was rewarded with a new screen. "You have added your RCA L42FHD3YX8. Thank you for your patience!"

Next I got a Sync Remote screen, while it updated my Harmony remote with the information in my account. It told me not to disconnect the remote until the sync is completed, which only took a minute.

"Congratulations! Setup is complete and you can disconnect and use your remote." Clicking Finish brought me to the My Harmony home page. From the home page I'm able to add or adjust devices, setup favorite channels, fix or change buttons that don't seem to work correctly, and setup favorite channels for my television.

Well, after all of that trouble, it's still a piece of junk. I can turn the television's power on and off, change the channels and adjust the volume, as well as select the various input channels for the DVD player, the Wii and the other game consoles that are hooked up. Unfortunately, that's about all that I can do. None of the buttons work to change the television's display format between standard, stretched, Cinerama or zoomed. Also, while I can bring up the menu and close it afterward, none of the buttons work to scroll through it or select anything from it. Disappointing. There are 5 customizable buttons that I could setup to perform these tasks, but it would have been nice if the corresponding buttons on the Harmony performed the same functions as they did on the original remote. That, and the fact that it's a pain to use the slow My Harmony software to assign buttons and get them to function correctly.

The DVD player did fare a little better, but was still not great. I could turn it off and on; I could even play, stop, pause, fast forward, etc. through my videos. Unfortunately, my DVD player has a button that lets me switch between playing DVDs from the drive or playing video content from the USB port, and there was no button that would work to switch between the two on the Harmony remote.

It claims to have a constantly updated database, and that "Your remote won't become obsolete when manufacturers release new products or when you buy a new TV or add a Blu-ray player to your setup". It also claims that setup is a snap. "Connect your remote to your computer. Tell us about your devices. We take care of the hard stuff". Unfortunately neither of the 2 devices I own were in the database, and setup was anything but snappy. There's not even a code list to fall back on if their slow software won't make your devices work correctly. On top of that, since the one and only way to program your remote is over the internet, if you don't have internet access then you can't use this thing at all. The fact that the software requires having a Mac or a recent version of Windows installed also means you can't use it if you use Linux or something else as your primary operating system.

I wanted so badly to like the Logitech Harmony 300 Universal Remote Control, I really did. Too bad it ended up being so useless.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burner

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Reliable and fast
Cons: A little loud at full speed

Current System

AMD Athlon II X3 450 3.2GHz Processor
Antec 300 Case
ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24x DVD Burner
ASUS M4A87TD EVO AMD870 Motherboard
ASUS Radeon HD 6850 1GB Video Card
Corsair Builder Series CX600 PSU
G.SKILL Ripjaws X 8GB DDR3 1600 RAM
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Samsung SyncMaster 2333T 23" LCD Widescreen Monitor


Introduction

When I assembled this most recent computer, I went ahead and purchased a new DVD burner so that I could leave the old one in the previous computer that it was already installed in. When it comes to DVD burners, I'm not too fussy. The main thing is that it has to work good, burn dual layer discs, and not be too expensive. I've not bothered making the switch to Blu-Ray, and even if I had I rarely watch movies on my PC anyway. I was pretty happy with the LG burner I had in the last computer, but this ASUS DRW-24B1ST was a couple of dollars cheaper so I decided to give it a shot instead this time around. On top of that, both the motherboard and the video card I was installing were also ASUS products, so I figured why not go for the trifecta.

Looks

The ASUS DRW-24B1ST is an average looking drive. The front face has a black matte finish with an ASUS logo in the middle of the tray. It has a DVD Multi logo and an RW DVD+R DL logo on the left side, along with an X Multi and a CD Rewritable logo on the right side of the tray. The eject button has rounded corners and is in the regular bottom right position, and has a silent but tactile click when pressed. Above the eject button is the standard pinhole to insert a paperclip or similar to manually open the drive. Lastly, we have a green activity LED about an inch away from the eject button.

It's a fairly light-weight drive (650g) with a standard 5.25 inch form factor. That's a bit misleading, since the 5.25 inch form factor is really 5.75" wide by 1.63" tall and 8" long. The DRW-24B1ST is about 7" long, which means you shouldn't have any trouble fitting it in a Micro ATX case even with a top mounted power supply directly behind it.

It is easy to install, just slide it into an open 5.25 inch drive bay, install the 4 included mounting screws, plug in the SATA data and power cables, and you're all set. There are no extra drivers included or necessary, but you can install the included Nero Essentials if you have no other disc burning software on your computer.

Details

The ASUS DRW-24B1ST is an internal tray loading DVD burner that hooks up via an SATA cable. It has a 2MB cache and features a 150ms access time for either DVDs or CDs. It can be mounted either vertically or horizontally, and works with both 12cm and 8cm discs. It supports Audio CD, Video CD, CD-I, CD-Extra, Photo CD, CD-Text, CD-ROM/XA, Multi-session CD and DVD Video formats.

Read/Write Speeds: DVD+R 16x/24x, DVD-R 16x/24x, DVD+RW 12x/8x, DVD-RW 12x/6x, DVD-ROM 16x, DVD+R DL 12x/12x, DVD-R DL 12x/12x, DVD-ROM DL 12x/12x, CD-R 40x/48x, CD-RW 40x/24x, DVD-RAM 12x, DVD Video, Playback 6x, VCD Playback 16x, Audio CD Playback 16x. Not that it really matters to me if my drive will burn a DVD+R at 24x, because all the DVDs I buy are rated for 16x burns - on top of that, I usually burn them at 8x so that I make sure they come out correctly. The slower the better, if you've got the time to wait. It probably takes me between 4 and 5 minutes to burn a full DVD at 16x, and 8 to 10 minutes to burn one at 8x.

Despite the Auto Vibration Reducing System that was made to reduce noise and vibration, the drive is louder than my previous LG drive, especially when it's spun up to a high speed. It's not terrible, but it would certainly be an inconvenience if you installed this drive in a home theater PC or if you were putting together a silent system.

This DVD burner has an operating temperature of 5ºC to 45ºC and a storage temperature of -20ºC to 60º. It works in humidity ranging from 20% to 80% (non-condensing) and can be stored in humidity ranging from 15% to 90% (non-condensing). It comes with a 1 year limited warranty on parts and labor from the manufacturer.

The ASUS DRW-24B1ST comes bundled Nero Essentials and E-Hammer software. Nero Essentials is an OEM software suite for playing and recording CDs and DVDs. E-Hammer lets you permanently delete data on recordable CDs and DVDs. If you delete the data, it can never be restored or recovered and you will no longer be able to read the disc. It helps with data security, but be careful playing with it so you don't destroy anything important.

The drive works well and never has a problem reading discs. A couple of my game discs have a few scratches on them and it reads them quickly and without issues as well. It works just as well at recording discs, never giving me coasters if I use decent quality discs to start with. I've had coasters from cheap discs, but that is to be expected and is most likely the fault of the discs.

System Requirements

Processor: Pentium 300 MHz
RAM: 128 MB
Hard Drive: 10 GB
Operating System: Windows 7, Vista, 2000, XP

Like many products the ASUS DRW-24B1ST has no mention of Linux, but it performs flawlessly and requires no special steps to work in Linux Mint 11. I imagine it would work just as well in a Mac, but I have no way to test that claim.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Logitech "Couch Mouse" M515 Wireless Mouse

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Long range, long battery life, perfect signal, this thing is spectacular
Cons: None

Introduction

I've had terrible luck with wireless mice in the past. Not that they're all terrible, some are comfortable and work well - but they always eat batteries so fast as to render them unusable to me. I'll pick up a mouse that claims to have a 6 month battery life, and two weeks later I'll already have to replace the batteries. This gets to be expensive, because you have to use good quality batteries - if you use cheap batteries it'll only end up lasting one week. Not only that, but of course the batteries always seem to die at the most inopportune moment possible.

I've long said that if I ever picked up another wireless mouse in the future, it would be one with a recharging cradle so that I didn't have to worry about replacing the batteries. However, I saw this Logitech Couch Mouse M515 Wireless Mouse while I was browsing the electronics department at Wal-Mart, and it looked pretty great. I'm a big fan of Logitech products, having had great luck with them in the past. The Couch Mouse claims be designed for better browsing on your couch, bed or carpet with it's easy gliding base. I figured this would be handy to not only use with my desktop to eliminate the mouse cord, but it would also be easy to bring along with the laptop if it would really work on different types of surfaces. The sticking point, however, was that it claims to have a 2 year battery life! I'm going on 4 months now and haven't had to replace the batteries yet, and I picked this up for only $30 - so even if the batteries were to die tomorrow I'd be completely satisfied.

I've been using the Logitech M100 Mouse for quite a while prior to this purchase. I love the mouse, but having a cord constantly getting hung up around my speaker is annoying. As much as I like the M100, I've recently replaced it with this M515 Couch Mouse on my main computer that I use most often. I also picked up a Logitech K120 Keyboard to use in conjunction with this mouse.

Description

The Logitech Couch Mouse M515 Wireless Mouse is a three button mouse, but instead of using the mouse wheel as the middle button it features a small raised square button set just behind the mouse wheel instead. This is necessary because of yet another feature I like about this mouse - the switchable scroll wheel. With one press of the wheel, the Logitech Hyper-Fast Scrolling kicks in and your mouse wheel freely spins to smoothly scroll through the longest web pages in a single spin. Press it again and you revert to a regular click-to-click scrolling mode. I always liked the click-to-click mode, but after using the smooth scrolling for a while I find it hard to go back to doing it the other way. You can scroll as fast or as slow as you want, and it's just so smooth and fluid.

The Couch Mouse is slightly smaller than a full-sized desktop mouse, but not much. It has a symmetrical design allowing it to be used either left or right-handed. It measures 4 inches long, 2.25 inches wide and 1.5 inches tall. It's just slightly heavier than my Logitech M100 Mouse without the batteries inserted, but it's still not a heavy mouse. The buttons operate smoothly and give a firm, audible click for feedback when pressed. The sides and bottom of the mouse are black and it's grey on top. It also features a sealed bottom so that fuzz doesn't collect around the optical sensor when you use the mouse on some of the strange surfaces it supposedly works on. The mouse also has soft rubber sides that make it comfortable to hold onto.

On top of that, the mouse wheel allows for easy navigation of websites. Pushing the wheel to the left while in your web browser is the same as pressing the back button, while pushing it to the right works just like pressing the forward button. This is exceptionally handy when I'm sitting 20 feet away in the living room on the couch and browsing the web from my computer in the other room via an HDMI cable hooked up to the television. Yes, I said 20 feet - and using a couch cushion for a mouse pad to boot. This 2.4GHz wireless mouse works brilliantly for browsing Epinions from the comfort of my living room, as well as navigating Hulu or Netflix. There's no lag or stuttering, no signal loss, and it would probably work from even further away - but I'm not going to go outside and sit in my truck to test it.

The easy gliding base claims to make mousing around on couches, blankets, cushions, clothing, carpets and desks easy - so how is it? Great. I've tried it on the carpet, the arm as well as the seat of a cloth couch, a leather chair, my shirt, some curtains, a pad of paper, a cardboard box. Flawless movement all around. The only place I've found that it does not work, is on the textured plastic of this 6 foot fold up table I use for a desk - it hardly moves at all there. I just made sure to keep my existing mouse pad for use here on the desk and it's great.

The Logitech Couch Mouse M515 Wireless Mouse's resolution is not explicitly stated on the package or in any of the documentation, nor could I find the information on Logitech's website. However, It tracks smoothly and accurately and seems to be somewhere around the 1000 DPI mark.

Changing batteries is easy, the back of the bottom of the mouse slides off exposing a cavity where you can place 2 AA batteries. The batteries go on on each side of the mouse, which helps keep it balanced. In between the batteries, there is a small place to store the USB unifying nano receiver while transporting the mouse. This is convenient when you want to throw the mouse into a bag with your laptop and not have to worry about losing the small receiver. There's a recessed on/off button on the bottom of the mouse as well so that you can shut the mouse off to conserve battery life.

Not that the on/off button is necessary all the time. One of the reasons the Logitech M515 Wireless Mouse has such terrific battery life is the fact that it only turns on when you're actually gripping the mouse. It stays asleep when you're not holding it, greatly prolonging the battery. When you're ready to use it again, it instantly kicks back on with no noticeable lag time - which means you don't have to wait endlessly for it to come out of sleep mode. I really love this feature, as it gives me the best of both features - an always-on mouse, and good battery life. There's a battery indicator light just behind the middle mouse button that will turn red when there are only a couple of weeks of battery life left.

The USB unifying nano receiver is great as well. It's tiny, only protruding 1/4" or so from the USB port. It's amazing that the signal and range are so good on something packed into such a little space. Another nifty feature of the unifying receiver is the fact that it will work with up to 6 compatible wireless devices. For example, adding a Logitech wireless keyboard. This is especially great for laptops and computers with a limited number of USB ports, as it allows you to use multiple devices with one receiver. Using the unifying feature will require downloading the unifying software from Logitech's website, as this mouse does not come with a software disc. Unfortunately I don't have another Logitech wireless product to test the feature.

System Requirements

Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
Mac OS X 10.5 or later
USB port

It also works perfectly fine in Linux, though the packaging and documentation makes no mention of it. The tilt left and right feature is not supported on Mac computers, but seems to work just fine in Linux Mint 11. There are no drivers or software included with the mouse, and none are required for normal operation.

Overall the Logitech Couch Mouse M515 Wireless Mouse is a terrific mouse. It has changed my views on wireless mice in general by working as advertised, being durable and reliable, having no latency or dropped connections, and most importantly by having a battery life that doesn't require weekly replacement batteries.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Samsung SpinPoint F4 Hard Drive


Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Reliable, huge capacity, Advanced Format, generally quiet running drive
Cons: Long spin up time

Current System

AMD Athlon II X3 450 3.2GHz Processor
Antec 300 Case
ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24x DVD Burner
ASUS M4A87TD EVO AMD870 Motherboard
ASUS Radeon HD 6850 1GB Video Card
Corsair Builder Series CX600 PSU
G.SKILL Ripjaws X 8GB DDR3 1600 RAM
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Samsung SyncMaster 2333T 23" LCD Widescreen Monitor

When I assembled this new computer in March of 2011, I used a 1 TB Samsung Spinpoint F3 SATA-II hard drive as the main system drive. I knew I would want a second hard drive for storage purposes, so I installed this 2 TB Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II hard drive that I had purchased a few months before. It's a slower 5400 RPM drive, but since it was only going to be used for storage and not as the main system drive I wasn't overly concerned with the speed.

This was the first Samsung drive I've purchased in the last number of years, so I didn't know exactly what to expect going in. I've been really happy with my previous drives from Western Digital, Maxtor and Seagate, but this drive was a little cheaper per gigabyte so I decided to give it a try. Overall, I'm very pleased with it. It's been dependable, and the sheer capacity of the drive is enough that I don't foresee having to purchase an additional drive any time soon.

I ordered it as a bare OEM from Newegg, so I received it in a clear plastic case with a small bag containing 4 mounting screws. My motherboard came with a couple of SATA cables which I used hook the drive up, and it also came with thumb screws for my hard drives so I did not use the enclosed mounting screws.

Installation is as easy as sliding the hard drive into an empty 3.5" bay and putting in the 4 mounting screws. The next step in the process is to plug one end of an SATA cable into the drive and the other end into an available SATA-II port on the motherboard. Finally, plug in an available SATA power connector from the power supply into the back of the hard drive. After that I formatted it in Windows 7 with a single NTFS partition so that the drive would be available for use in both Windows 7 and Linux Mint.

Details

It's 3 platter hard drive with 6 read/write heads. It rotates at 5400 RPM with a rotation time of 11.11 ms and an average rotational latency of 5.56 ms. It features a 32 MB cache and has a total capacity of 1863.0 GB (2,000,396,742,656 bytes) when formatted with a single NTFS partition.

The Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II hard drive is a  standard desktop 3.5" form factor, measuring 4 inches wide, 5.8 inches long, 1 inch tall and weighing 1.4 pounds. It uses 0.9 watts of power in standby, 7.7 watts idle and 9.5 watts while seeking. After 41 days, 17 hours of power on time, the current drive temperature is 31ºC and the maximum temperature over the entire lifespan of the drive is 39ºC.

It uses first generation Advanced Formatting, the IDEMA standard that uses 4096 bytes per sector instead of 512 bytes. This allows the drive capacity to be used for large files more efficiently, as well as allowing for better error correction to keep your data intact. While this is mostly a transparent change for modern operating systems such as Windows 7, Vista, Mac OS X 10.6 and newer Linux distributions - Windows XP users will need to download the Samsung Alignment Tool from samsung.com to get the best performance out of their drive.

The Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II hard drive features SilentSeek and NoiseGuard technology, and ATA Automatic Acoustic Management which helps keep the drive quiet during operation. It also has a shock and rotational vibration sensor and comes with a 3 year limited warranty from Samsung.

Performance

Since the Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen is only a 5400 RPM drive, I expected a little slower speed. The worst part of the performance is the drive's 13 second average spin up time. Since I don't use the drive regularly, only when I want to copy files to or from my extra storage space, it needs to spin up to be ready to use more often than not and that 13 seconds seems like an eternity. The drive is also loud during spin up, when it's really quiet the rest of the time.

Benchmarking of this hard drive was done using DiskMark 1.0.0.7 from NetworkDLS. The first run was done with the default settings, using many runs with a fairly small set size to simulate copying multiple smaller files. This included 128 files of 64 KB each, and the test was ran 320 times for a total of 2.5 GB. The second run was done with a lot less runs, but a much larger set size to simulate copying a smaller number of much larger files. This included 128 files of 6.25 MB each, and ran 32 times for a total of 25 GB.

Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II (5400 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 64.00 KB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 8.00 MB, Runs: 320, Total Set Size: 2.50 GB
Write Performance: Min: 98.68 MB/s, Max: 164.24 MB/s, Average: 153.68 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 88.17 MB/s, Max: 174.24 MB/s, Average: 168.09 MB/s

Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen SATA-II (5400 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 6.25 MB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 800.00 MB, Runs: 32, Total Set Size: 25.00 GB
Write Performance: Min: 97.73 MB/s, Max: 101.70 MB/s, Average: 99.25 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 99.17 MB/s, Max: 100.17 MB/s, Average: 99.79 MB/s


The same set of tests was then completed on my 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3 SATA-II hard drive for comparison. The F3 is a 7200 RPM hard drive and has standard 512 byte sectors, while the F4 EcoGreen is a 5400 RPM hard drive with the Advanced Format 4096 byte sectors. Both drives were hooked up via SATA Rev 2.6.

Since both drives are Samsung Spinpoint drives, this should tell us a lot about how the larger capacity, slower speed F4 EcoGreen drive measures up to it's predecessor.

Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F3 SATA-II (7200 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 64.00 KB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 8.00 MB, Runs: 320, Total Set Size: 2.50 GB
Write Performance: Min: 59.37 MB/s, Max: 131.66 MB/s, Average: 127.63 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 63.38 MB/s, Max: 153.97 MB/s, Average: 151.30 MB/s

Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F3 SATA-II (7200 RPM)
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 6.25 MB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 800.00 MB, Runs: 32, Total Set Size: 25.00 GB
Write Performance: Min: 91.91 MB/s, Max: 120.07 MB/s, Average: 116.03 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 112.78 MB/s, Max: 121.74 MB/s, Average: 120.15 MB/s


As we can see, the Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen wasn't too much different than the Samsung Spinpoint F3, despite being a 5400 RPM drive instead of a 7200 RPM. It was a little slower with larger files, but it was somehow actually faster across the board when copying many very small files. The tests were ran 3 times on each drive, and the middle result was used.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk 2 TB USB 3.0 Hard Drive


Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of space, fast transfer with USB 3.0, Mameo Instant Backup isn't terrible
Cons: Annoying trial versions of stuff in the installer, at least not installed by default

Introduction

The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 2 TB USB 3.0 External Hard Drive is pretty good as far as external hard drives go. It was picked up at Wal-Mart for $99 so we could back up other computers onto it. When I was in Wal-Mart again the other day, I seen they were down to only $89 now. Terrific good price for a 2 TB external hard drive, let alone one with USB 3.0 support. The other choice would have been a Western Digital MyBook sitting on the shelf beside the GoFlex, but for the same 2 TB of space the MyBook would have been $15 more expensive.

My other two external hard drives were just enclosures that I had purchased separately and placed internal 3.5" desktop hard drives into. One of the internal drives is a Western Digital and the other is a Maxtor. They're still holding up well after many years, but they're both much smaller drives, and neither is USB 3.0, so it was time for an upgrade. While not all of the computers I would be backing up have USB 3.0 ports, some do, and the ones that do are the ones that have the most data to backup anyway. The drive had to be backwards compatible with USB 2.0 for the other computers though, and this one fit the bill nicely.

Cutting the tape from the fully recyclable retail box, the hard drive itself was enclosed in a plastic bag and encased in two pieces of cardboard that formed around each side to leave empty space around the drive for padding. A folded piece of cardboard folded around the 4 foot USB 3.0 cable and the power adapter kept them in a corner away from the drive so they didn't bang into it. There was a tiny quick start guide tucked into the side to round out the package's contents.

GoFlex Desk

The hard drive enclosure weighs about 2.4 pounds. It's approximately 6.22 inches tall, 1.73 inches wide and 4.88 inches deep when standing vertically; the drive can also be placed horizontally. It houses a regular 3.5" desktop hard drive inside a thin enclosure, with the power and data cords plugging into the base portion. The whole base portion can be swapped out for one that works with FireWire instead of USB, but it's pretty expensive and probably not worth it.

There's an activity light on the base, as well as 4 LEDs that give you a visual gauge as to how much of the drive's capacity is available. The drive is pre-loaded with encrypted backup software from Memeo, as well as an NTFS driver for Mac. It contradicts itself by saying you can share movies, photos, music and more between PC and Mac without reformatting, and then saying in small print that reformatting may be required for some Mac applications.

The drive is Plug-and-Play with any modern operating system. The box says it works with PC and Mac; I've had it plugged into a 64-bit Windows 7 machine and an old 32-bit version of Linux Mint and it was immediately recognized and available in both operating systems. Backing up my computers was no trouble, and there's a ton of space left over. 2 TB of hard drive space is enough to store around 33,000 hours of digital music, 640,000 digital photos, 2,000 hours of digital video, or 500 DVD quality movies.

Software

When I ran the installer in Windows 7, it installed the Seagate Dashboard program and gave me the choice of installing Memeo Instant Backup or an Extended Trial of Memeo Premium Backup. Then it wanted me to install an extended trial of Memeo Sync, which I declined. I did install the Instant Backup to test it out, and it's pretty straight-forward. It has a drop down box to pick which drive you want to back up to, and a bar displaying how much space is required and how much is available on the selected drive. There's a Start Backup button, along with a Restore button.

There's also a break-down of what type of stuff is going to be backed up, and it's reflected in the bar. Mine, for example, lists 80.7 MB of documents and displays that portion in purple on the bar. 83.7 MB of pictures displayed in blue, 3.1 GB of music in orange, 6.7 GB of videos in green and 81.3 GB in yellow labeled "other", totalling 91.3 GB. This barely puts a dent in the total capacity bar, leaving plenty of room to back up the other computers onto the drive as well.

There's also a button labeled Advanced Options. This acts as a list of specific things you want to back up instead of backing up the whole computer. It's easy to use, you can even drag folders into the list to select them for backing up. There's also a check box here to encrypt your backup with a password.

Seagate Dashboard - Powered by Memeo

There's not a whole lot to the Dashboard, it's just a small window with a few options in it. At the top it has a stock picture of the hard drive, a drop down box to select your drive in case you have more than one supported drive installed, and a clickable link for drive settings. In the drive settings you have four tabs, the first of which is Power Settings. The only option here is to choose one of 12 options to set how long your drive must be inactive before it goes into power saving mode. The options range from 3, 4, 5, 15 or 30 minutes, to 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 hours, or never. The next tab is LED Settings, which again only has one option. Toggle the drive activity and status lights on and off.

The third tab is Test Drive, which says to click the Test button to make sure your drive is functioning properly. It also states that the test will not affect the contents of your drive. I clicked the Test button, which took about 30 seconds, the progress bar got to 100% and it said the testing had completed. "Your external drive is functioning normally." It gave no indication as to what it tested or how, so I can only assume this is useful in some way. The last tab is Drive Information, which simply shows the drive's serial number and firmware version (my firmware is 0D.1.2). It also lists the drive's volume label, capacity, free space and how the file system is formatted.

Below the drop-down and Drive Settings is a small bar showing the total hard drive space, the amount of space that is used and the amount left available. Further below that is a section called My Applications, which for me only has Instant Backup listed. I can only assume if you installed the extended trial of Memeo Premium Backup or Memeo Sync from the software installer, they would be listed here as well.

Finally at the bottom of the Dashboard is an Application Store area, where you can purchase other Memeo products such as Memeo Premium Backup, Memeo Sync, Memeo Send or Memeo Share.

System Requirements

Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP (32-bit and 64-bit) operating system or
Mac OS X operating system 10.4.11, 10.5.8, or 10.6.2 (32-bit kernel only)
SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port (required for USB 3.0 transfer speeds or backwards compatible with USB 2.0 ports at USB 2.0 transfer speeds)

Performance

My Seagate GoFlex Desk came with SuperSpeed USB 3.0 support, which claims to be up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0. Obviously it's never as good as the packaging will lead you to believe, so just how much faster is it? Let's find out.

Benchmarking of this hard drive was done using DiskMark 1.0.0.7 from NetworkDLS. The first run was done with the default settings, using many runs with a fairly small set size to simulate copying multiple smaller files. This included 128 files of 64 KB each, and the test was ran 320 times for a total of 2.5 GB. The second run was done with a lot less runs, but a much larger set size to simulate working with a smaller number of much larger files. This included 128 files of 6.25 MB each, and ran 32 times for a total of 25 GB. Each test was completed once with the drive hooked up via USB 3.0, and then again with the drive hooked up to a USB 2.0 port.

Configuration: USB 3.0
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 64.00 KB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 8.00 MB, Runs: 320, Total Set Size: 2.50 GB
Write Performance: Min: 22.38 MB/s, Max: 94.66 MB/s, Average: 87.28 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 73.30 MB/s, Max: 117.85 MB/s, Average: 115.38 MB/s

Configuration: USB 3.0
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 6.25 MB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 800.00 MB, Runs: 32, Total Set Size: 25.00 GB
Write Performance: Min: 71.03 MB/s, Max: 118.26 MB/s, Average: 115.39 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 111.29 MB/s, Max: 122.10 MB/s, Average: 121.36 MB/s

Configuration: USB 2.0
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 64.00 KB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 8.00 MB, Runs: 320, Total Set Size: 2.50 GB
Write Performance: Min: 11.57 MB/s, Max: 25.71 MB/s, Average: 23.11 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 19.01 MB/s, Max: 28.94 MB/s, Average: 28.21 MB/s

Configuration: USB 2.0
Allow Caching: No, Set Size: 6.25 MB, Rounds: 128, Per Set Size: 800.00 MB, Runs: 32, Total Set Size: 25.00 GB
Write Performance: Min: 27.92 MB/s, Max: 31.26 MB/s, Average: 30.98 MB/s
Read Performance: Min: 32.53 MB/s, Max: 33.01 MB/s, Average: 32.96 MB/s

As we can see, it's nowhere near 10 times as fast - but we didn't expect it to be. It does appear to be 3 or 4 times faster with USB 3.0 than it is with USB 2.0, and it's a little faster with fewer large files than with many small files. Overall I'm very happy with it, and the USB 3.0 makes backing up some of the computers around here a breeze.