Cooling your PC
Quite often one of the problems we see with a computer is that one of the fans has stopped working and the system starts to lock up or shut down. This can be very dangerous to your computer if it is not setup to automatically shut things down when it overheats as it will cause the processor to fail and sometimes can take the mainboard with it. A very good series of columns lately by Fred Langa www.langa.com has done a great job of looking into the problem and offers some really good solutions and a very good summary of what the noise inside your computer not only is coming from but what can you do to reduce it. His columns are also in Information Week magazine, http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=17701645, so take a look there.
I have always been interested in this topic because quite often, when you build a high end machine, it is never cool enough and so every year when I went to the computer shows at Comdex, would always look for what is new and what companies are doing. I have seen some of the neatest fans, cooling systems, and refrigeration units that actually sit on top of a processor to keep it cold. The latest that I saw, and again, this was from one of Fred’s columns, was on a Purdue professor who has applied for a patent to cool a processor using ionized clouds passing over the processor. You should take a look at the Cooling Technology Research Center at Purdue, http://widget.ecn.purdue.edu/~CTRC/, and then look at the article in March issue of New Scientist, a UK based publication at www.newscientist.com. This kind of technology is really neat but I tell you, I still like the small refrigerator sitting on my chip.
When you first look at a Yellow Machine, you can’t be but impressed with the equipment. Stylish, sleek, and it looks like business. I first saw this at last fall’s Comdex show in Las Vegas when a new start up company, Anthology Solutions, www.anthologysolutions.com was showing it off to potential buyers. What impressed me besides the bright yellow box was the promise of a very inexpensive box that sits on your network and becomes the firewall, router, and backup solution all in one tidy little box that is accessed through an Ethernet connection.
What is surprising about the Yellow Machine is that it can be as complicated as you want it to be. It is a Unix based system that you install up to 4 ATA connected IDE Drives and it has connections on the back for 8 10/100mbps Ethernet ports, a WAN port for Cable or DSL modem, and a serial port to connect into a UPS system. Truly a feature rich box but as I said before, it can be very complicated. First of all, the instructions are difficult. It comes with two major documents, the Installation Guide and the Manual. It is very easy to get started with the Yellow Machine in that depending on how it comes, you can nearly just plug it in and start using it. Cable modem users will be the easiest to set up as you don’t have to set up your user id or password to get started.
The first thing you need to make sure of when starting is that you turn off the pop up blocker on your web browser. I nearly was stopped in my tracks as to get to the Yellow Machine, you need to enter an IP address in the browser window. What happens is that the log in screen comes up just fine but once you enter the default information, it then pops up the configuration screen in a new window. One of the problems of using a pop up blocker is that often they block the pop ups you need.
As you turn on the machine, the lights on the front are very informative in telling you the status of the drives, link access, and WAN access. Of course, a server box like the Yellow Machine should be connected to a UPS unit to prevent accidental shutdowns. Like most computers, it does take a bit for it to power up but it does it on its own through a separate on off switch on the back and not by using the power supply’s switch.
As this is a pre-production model, the first thing I noticed was that the manual, while being very accurate in its descriptions of the information, was very difficult to follow. End users need to be able to understand not only their choices, but get some help in making them. This may end up being a device that needs to be installed and setup by a qualified technician because many of the concepts that you need to understand or decide are not that intuitive to the average home or office user but from what I hear from the company, they are working on that and it is an early draft.
But so far, this has been a pretty neat machine to use. I am using it to back up all of my important documents from my computer on a daily basis and then also use it to make copies of the drive images as well. As I find out more about this machine, I will let you know.
As someone who spends a lot of time on the internet, I was excited to take a look at the new Voice over IP technology that is making the rounds. What VOIP does for you is to allow you to make traditional type telephone calls using the internet. I had seen in the past people using microphones and the sound cards on their computers to make calls but had noticed that they always seem to be choppy, difficult to understand, and just not worth the trouble. But this is getting to be big business as what I am beginning to hear is that three years from now, they expect to have 7 million VOIP phones in use. In fact, Cisco Systems claimed to have shipped over a million VOIP phones just in the year up to July 2003. So, is it time for the rest of us to look at what VOIP can do for us? With that in mind, and the fact that I have a good high speed internet connection, after attending their press conference at Comdex this past November, I got a new phone from Aico Systems at www.aicosystems.com. The model I got was the U-100 Talk Pro phone which connects to your computer via a USB port.
It is a pretty simple package to open up. You get your USB attached phone which is lightweight and can either sit flat on a desk or mount on the wall with standard wall hooks for a phone, a lightweight hand set with coiled phone cord, and a product package with Product guide, User Manual, Install CD, and a card with your username, temporary password, and phone number.
To install the package really doesn’t take up much hardware. Windows98 or later supporting USB 1.1, a Pentium II 233 with 32mb ram is all about you need. According to the manual, your internet speed needs to be only 20kb per second or faster which is pretty slow. In fact, I have seen most dial up connections that go faster than 20kb.
Like most other unusual devices, you need to take a look at the instructions before putting the CD into the drive or plugging in the device. In this case, you plug in the device under Windows XP and it finds it automatically and installs the “Human Interface Device” for you. You also need to make some changes to your sound card and they are pretty good about stepping you through those steps as well. Like most well written packages, the installation is easy, just put in the CD. What I thought was interesting, your choices of languages are English, Chinese (PRC) and Chinese (Taiwan). You get the usual legal agreement and because I was going to make overseas calls, I was interested in what they had to say about the use of the equipment and was quite surprised to find it a simple and short agreement. You can tell the Chinese roots of the application when I again get to a page that asks me to select my region. Once choice is China, the other is “Other Regions”.
After this comes a question regarding your network type. You have several choices and in my case, since I am on a local area network and the computer is not directly connected to the cable modem, I picked LAN but it would help if the booklet gave you some description on what your choices should be as it could be confusing for someone using a gateway, router, or other device to get to the internet. Once you restart your computer, you should be ready to go. In my case, my computer started and then restarted on its own with an error message saying do I want Windows to start normally or revert to a prior setting. That made me a bit nervous but I plugged on and the computer started normally with the login screen that pops up for the phone. Enter in the information and a phone window comes up where you can get to all your information such as your account, rates for calls, and to recharge your account. This screen that pops up looks like a phone but you can’t move it to another part of the screen, just minimize or close it.
All calls you make with your Talk Pro phone are not free except the ones that you make to another Talk Pro user but they are cheap! China and England are 4 cents a minute, Japan and Australia are 6 cents, and Germany is 11 cents. But not all sites are that cheap, Fiji is 44 cents, Vanuatu is $1.04, Cuba is $1.58 and Antarctica’s area code of 672 is $2.07. The Vatican City is $3.30. So it looks like before you start dialing away, you should check your destination and you can easily do that on their web site.
So as I kept reading the price charts about the phone, it rings and is my friend Ash from Australia. He also got the TalkPro USB phone from attending the same press conference as I did and I had just emailed him my phone number. So, him over breakfast, and me at 5:pm closing time at the office, had a chance to test the phone and the call was quite clear. I could hear very well every word he said and it did sound just like him. My only complaint is that it was difficult to hear him. The phone has a volume control button but it doesn’t give you any indication as to the volume level. After tinkering, I discovered that there are five levels, with the lowest being the same as hitting the mute button. After our conversation, I looked into the manual a bit more and found where I need to make changes to my sound card settings for Voice and tested it again and it worked just fine. When the call comes in, or when I make an outgoing call, the TalkPro window pops up on the screen to tell me what number is calling me and how long the call is. When you make a call, it also tells you what your account balance is so if you are calling an expensive site, you might want to update the amount first. To do that, go online and log into your account. What is interesting is that they have you enter your TalkPro phone number and password in and then have a graphic on the screen which you have to enter the number there as well. It keeps you from simply logging in like you would to most other accounts and it says it is secure but I never saw the little secure lock on the bottom of the screen.
The phones are available online through TalkPro’s store at www.talkpro.net. The USB Phone I got, U-100 is $110, and the Ethernet based R-100 phone is $170. The R Series phone plugs directly into an Ethernet port so you don’t even need a computer to use it. It is a little large to just throw into your travel bag for when you get to someplace with an Ethernet port but I like the idea. For world travelers, you could hopefully look for an Ethernet based phone in a small size. If not, go for the U-100M model sometime later. It still plugs into a USB port on your computer but is in a small travel size.
I have made quite a few more calls on my TalkPro now that I put a little more money into my account for calls outside the network, and for the most part, these calls have gone through just fine. There have been some nit picky items like one time I heard a high pitch faint hum in the background, and another, someone said my voice seems a little off but that could be the effects of the cold I had. In fact, when I called that first number back from my land line, I still heard that high pitch hum so it wasn’t the TalkPro. Every one of the calls was clear, and I could really hear people well once I adjusted the sound. Once in a while on a call, I felt like it was missing a packet or two as things would kind of jump in the conversation but never really enough to be a problem hearing someone. I think those things happened when both of us were talking at the same time. Probably my only remaining problem is that the phone is so light, that if you move much, the phone slides around the desk and if your desk is cluttered, look out. I think I would like something to attach it to my desk so it doesn’t go anywhere. What really sets these phones apart is the technology inside. They are built with two chips, one is a DSP voice processing processor and the other is a voice correcting chip developed by AICO which is made to improve problems with transmissions and lag times as well as voice quality. Because of this proprietary technology, TalkPro is not like any other VOIP phone and uses its own network and gatekeeper servers. The down side I would report even after more use at this point is that several times on the holiday when I used the phone to try and connect to another TalkPro phone, I could not connect. What would happen is you dial away like normal and then it beeps and you just get dead air. Was it ringing and I couldn’t hear it, I am not sure. Another problem I ran into which was and was not self inflicted was I got one of these “sorry the number is not reachable” messages and had to try again later. What I discovered, is if you enter a number wrong, you get that message. I also discovered, if you enter it correctly, you can also get that message. Take a look at your TalkPro software monitor to see what the message might be telling you. This time, calling a valid number told me it was invalid. Go figure. I do hope that this was just a one time problem with connecting so at this point, I wouldn’t throw away that land line just yet. Another time when I was talking to my friend Ash on his phone, we lost a lot of packets talking. Again, when I called him back a day or so later, the conversation was just fine. Now after checking with tech support, I did discover that if the TalkPro phone you are calling doesn’t have the software loaded to receive the call, you will get the unreachable error. I think they need to work on their error messages but I do have to say that each time I tried to call a land line, the call went through just fine.
If you want to call someone with a TalkPro phone from a land line, you need to call one of their “Worldpass Virtual Local Numbers” which are basically access numbers, get another dial tone, and then the TalkPro number. If you happen to be near one of these local access numbers which are available on a very limited basis right now, (Chicago, Boston, NYC, and some parts of CA) then there would be no charge. In other words, if the access number in Chicago, 630-948-1037, was a local call to me, then I could call Ash on his TalkPro phone in Australia from a regular land line at no cost to me.
So far, I am impressed with the technology and the calls I have made and very impressed with the clarity of the calls and with a very competitive rate on the calls made. As easy as it was to set it up, if you happen to travel a lot with your notebook, connect to either the internet via dial up or high speed access now available in so many places, and then just take your TalkPro phone with you. I think that would make life a whole lot easier. One point to remember is that if you decide to get one and you make a lot of calls to a particular person overseas, see if you can get him or her one as well and then your calls to them will cost nothing more. This will certainly be my phone to use for overseas calls.
One of the things that has been a pain is keeping track of all the business cards that get accumulated over the course of a trip to a trade show or event. I have several friends that use a couple of different business card readers but have never been that happy with the results and how they convert things to address books and the like. Having just returned from a trip to China with a handful of cards, and also having a ton from prior Comdex trips, I thought it would be a good time to get a card reader and test one out. The one I settled on was the IRIS Business Card Reader II from the I.R.I.S. Document imaging company at www.irislink.com.
Installing the equipment was quite easy. The Quick Installation Guide had me install the software before attaching the card reader. Take the defaults and it zips through. A couple of nits here to complain about and one is the fact that it comes up with the warning message that the driver has not been digitally signed. The second is that the USB cable used is an “A” to “A” connector cable and not the standard “A” to “B” connector cable found with most devices so if you lose the cable, you can’t just grab your USB printer or scanner cable to use. Another quibble is that when you scan your very first card, you need to follow the directions rather than looking at the picture regarding how you feed the card. But after three trial efforts, I figured out what I was supposed to do.
I do like the fact that you have a pretty powerful scanner here that will go up to 600 dpi and scans in color as well so the cards do look like what you scan. I like the database program they use as the cards come up in a nice and easy to see folder like they would be in a three ring binder. When I used one of my old business cards as a test, the scanning part works great and the OCR section to convert it to database fields worked very well. With the OCR function, you can scan the card, and then it will interpret the individual fields so that the file can be exported. When scanning cards, you have a choice of black and white or color and that makes a difference on the scanning speed. Same with lowering the dpi.
In scanning cards, if you are going to be doing a batch of them, you can set the scanner software on automatic and it does a very good job of scanning them in. Again, if you need to scan something different, it has a four inch wide scanning window so you can also do photographs with this. You just need to be careful and turn off the auto scan before you do this or it may lock up on you. The scanner had trouble feeding a card and locked up the scan process. When I closed it (End program now), it corrupted the database but when I started it up again, it asked me to repair it and came up just fine. For ordinary business cards, it seems to handle things just fine. The cards I was testing with this reader were nothing at all ordinary. The OCR feature tries its best I guess but it still left me having to move fields around a lot on the foreign business cards I was using. When it scans the card, if it runs into something it doesn’t know where to put, it puts it in the “Extras” folder on the card and that is great so that I can just drag and drop that text to the correct field. I like this feature. While it had difficulty figuring out where things go, it did an excellent job of recognizing correctly the text that it scanned. In fact, the more I had it recognize these difficult cards, the more I was impressed with how it handled them. Some of the cards I had to look quite hard to figure out what was where and the software did an excellent job.
I mentioned that you have several options to scanning the card from dpi of 200 up to 600. You can also scan different sizes of images or leave the basic setting at a landscape business card. For instance, I had an odd sized business card given to me that had to be unfolded to scan, it was too thick for the scanner but with a four inch feed area, you can scan quite a variety of items.
Documentation for the scanner is pretty thin with a small 24 page booklet more for getting started than for solving problems or going in-depth into an issue. For instance, in scanning photographs, I had a problem with one particular type of paper that slips too much for the scanner to grab and scan. I went looking to see what to do about jamming or if you get a card stuck and there is nothing on the web site to help you out. In fact, the web site support is very weak with a reference to a manual which you already have and nearly nothing on error messages or troubleshooting. The help files in the program primarily deal with handling the cards and converting them and for those tasks, does a nice job of leading you through the steps.
I would liked to have the chance of designating the cards for different categories as I was scanning them but you need to create separate database files for that which means that you need to sort them before you scan them. I have gotten used to Outlook’s categories and use them extensively for my address books.
One thing you have to watch when you do that is that the program defaults to its own folder in “Program Files” so if you stray away from that, you need to remember where it started. For instance, I didn’t pay attention to it when I was creating my file and then when I saved part of it in “My Documents”, after closing the program, it couldn’t find the database again. Having gone through back up issues and problems, it is imperative that it becomes easy to find your documents and data files and this is not easy. There is also no “file save as” feature on the card files so when you create one, you are stuck with it.
In wondering if I had the latest version of the software, in the program there is an “upgrade” selection but all it does is take you to the product purchase section on their web site.
So, once cards are scanned in, you then run the OCR to get them in a machine readable format. As you do this, you have the option of marking the card as either “Indexed” or “Verified”. Marking it as Indexed says that you have noted the company name so you can do searches on that field. Verifying a card says that you did indeed verify that all the fields are correctly entered in. At this point, you can export these cards to Outlook and also have the option of sending along a small .jpg of the card itself. Once in Outlook, you can then assign categories to the cards. If you tell it to export your cards, it will send everything including the ones not yet completed with the OCR and verification process. So when you add cards to your database, you need to be sure to just select the cards you want to export but the software doesn’t make that easy to do. So what I did was to open each card that I wanted to export and mark it “Indexed”. You can easily select all indexed cards and then just export those. Unfortunately, once that is done, you will have to open each one again and turn the indexing off for that card. It would have been nice to be able to select each card by right clicking on the card image and just selecting it. Having said all of this, I went back to see what would happen if I did just that. You can’t right click on a card but if you hold down the Control key “Ctrl” and then just click once on several cards, you in effect do just that. Look at the lower right where it says “all cards” and then shows you how many you have selected. You can then just export that group.
Since the scanner is a twain scanning device, you can use any other graphics program to use it to scan images. I used it with Paint Shop Pro and was able to scan in several 4x6 inch photographs just fine except for the problem of the slick paper as I mentioned. When I compared the scanned images with the same picture scanned on my Epson scanner, I found that the Epson did a much better job with the image.
As you can see from my notes, the software is a bit quirky but it does work pretty well. A couple of other things to annoy me are that when you start it, the information from help screen comes on and you have to click once to get rid of it. Another is that it comes up the same size every time and I have to make it full screen to easily read the cards on my 15 inch LCD at a 1024x768 resolution. Lots of improvements could be made but then again, for only $169 for the card reader scanner from IRIS, it is not a bad deal at all. I was able to scan easily all the cards I had, the OCR is excellent in deciphering the text, and I can pick and choose what I want to export to Outlook. Some improvements for IRIS would be to allow you to categorize them in the database and to export to another card database. A view of the cards only would be nice.
All in all, I like this scanner with the high resolutions you can get with it and it is doing a great job for me with my business cards which is what I wanted, an easy way to organize them once you get past the quirkiness of the software.
Over 10 years ago, while browsing bulletin boards for graphics software, I came across a software package for editing photographs that was easy to use, intuitive, and at the time, shareware. It was Jasc’s Paint Shop Pro. Since that time, I have used nearly every version up to my current 7.0 and have always been really pleased with what it could do. One of the things I do is have a web site for my personal travels so that family and friends can see some of the places I have been and have found that PSP was a very valuable and inexpensive tool to edit and manipulate the pictures for the web sites. With all that in mind, at last years Comdex events, I looked forward to seeing the demonstrations of the latest update to PSP and was quite impressed so I had them send me a copy. What I got was the Paint Shop Power Suite Photo Edition that includes Paint Shop Pro8, Paint Shop Photo Album 4, Paint Shop Xtras, and Paint Shop Creations. The entire bundle sells for $100 after a mail in rebate.
What I immediately like about this package is the material it includes. Besides all the software on a single CD, it includes a 440 page book for PSP8 that upon first looks is very comprehensive, easy to understand, and has an index that makes finding things easy. The manual for PS Photo Album 4 while smaller is built the same way as PSP8 and again, makes using it a painless task. The third book is a wonderful look into demystifying digital photography. The Paint Shop Creations book is full of color photographs, easy to read text and language, and tips on everything from buying your digital camera to taking better pictures. Having taken pictures for years, I still found it fascinating and couldn’t put it down. This is a great book to have and you can buy it separately at www.jasc.com for $15.95.
To install these programs, you need at a minimum 128mb of RAM, 700mb of disk space, Windows98 SE, and a Pentium computer. As with any photo editing program, the more memory and horsepower you have on the computer, the better.
Installing the program is pretty straightforward and is very clean. You have several choices as to where to install the program but can take all the defaults with out worry if you wish. Probably my only quibble here is I would have liked it to ask me to uninstall the older version that was on my computer. You do need to be online to view the privacy statement and register the program but, you can easily skip both of these if you want. The next install was the Photo Album 4 program and like PSP, it installed easily and quietly. One thing I liked about its install was that it asked me whether I wanted it to become the default viewer for jpg files. I am glad it asked because quite often when I want to look at an image, I just want a quick view of it and don’t want a catalog program to start up to view them.
When you first fire up PSP8, I was surprised at first at how different the screen is from my old version 7. Upon closer look, I see that it is really much like what I had before but looks much cleaner. The icons are more readable and of course, there are more tools for correcting the image but for experienced PSP users, you will feel very comfortable with it. For those of you not used to seeing Paint Shop Pro, you will see a very handy explanation of the tool when you point to it. When you start it up, you see lots of information and it can be intimidating but by the time you get used to using the program, you will find them all useful. One first new screen you see is the Learning Center with a number of quick guides from getting started and customizing the tool bar to basic changes to your pictures. One of my favorite sets of tools on the file tool bar is the undo and redo buttons. Make a change to a picture and you can flip back and forth between the buttons to check out all the changes to the image. What I often do is to focus on a part of the image and then flip back and forth to see how the change affected that part of the image. For instance, through the learning center, one of the topics is to make a picture straighter or remove red eye, you go to that topic and you will see a button that says perform this step for me. They have done a great job in making things easier to use and more intuitive.
One very useful feature in PSP is the browse feature. Start with it and an explorer type of window comes up showing you thumbnails of each of your images in each folder. For new users, there is a tremendous list of features to PSP that it would really take you weeks to delve into each one. The program is that powerful but don’t let the time bother you at all. With really full featured and powerful programs like this, it will often take quite a bit of time if you haven’t used these kinds of tools before. What I really like about this program is that you can get started using the basic tools very quickly to make the changes you need to your images whether you scan them directly into the program or bring them in from a digital camera.
The one step photo fix will run several of the most common changes to your photo to make touching up and correcting photos as seamless and easy as possible. If you want more control each of the different tools has a wide range of settings to fine tune your correction efforts. You can adjust the color balance, clarify the image if too blurry, change the contrast, the saturation of colors, and even remove sharp edges to the image. And that doesn’t even cover the really cool tools you would expect like red eye removal, pin cushion adjustment, and fade correction. You can pull up the histogram to adjust the contrast and color balance at one time with the graph of the effect and the preview mode to show you what is happening while you do it. If you get confused, hit help and you will immediately see the excellent description on what it does and how you manipulate the graphs and controls.
Some really neat features of PSP8 that I found are the corrections for barrel distortion, fisheye, and perspective. If you have ever taken pictures looking straight up the side of a building or with a very wide angle lens, you will find these tools essential.
A lot of people have used the basic image editing tools that have come with digital cameras and scanners but this is a real upgrade for very little money. Besides the one stop photo fixing tools, you can also do some really professional things with PSP including removing scratches and the precision background eraser. Both of these tools help you to do the professional types of image cleanup and editing that was before found only on the higher end software. With the Precision Eraser, you follow your edge around and PSP will automatically tell which pixels to erase. Really cool stuff. If you are like me where you do the same thing over again on a number of pictures, there is a new automated script writing tool to take advantage of. On one of my trips, I went to China and discovered I had to adjust every single picture because of the sand storms that plagued us for a few days and so having this script tool would have made that job a ton easier. A couple of other new features not found in the older versions is the new Materials palette that now has not only the colors to choose from but also many artistic styles, brushes, and illustration tools.
I took an old photograph that had faded quite a bit and scanned it in to see what PSP could do with it. The fade correction tool has a neat feature in the navigate button. Click on it and a small window appears on the image to better show you what the correction will do on a particular part of the picture. In this case, I focused on the face of the subject because skin tones are sometimes the toughest to correct for. With PSP8, I was able to do a much better job of correcting the color that had faded over time. One of the other things I really liked about PSP is the ability to change darn near anything both related to the image you are working on and to the configuration and settings of the program. For instance, I use the browse feature to better look and sort the images I am working on but find the thumbnails are too small when my screen is set to 1024x768 or higher. So I went into preferences and nearly doubled the size of the thumbnail to something that you can better look at.
One feature that I didn’t mention yet is the layering tools and image composition. Layering allows you to take several images and place them one on top of another to form a single composite image. Just look at the cover of most software packages out there and you will often see an incredible job of layering image on top of image and PSP has the tools to do all of that. You can treat each layer as a separate image and so can apply all of the tools in PSP to these images to create your own stunning effects.
As with a lot of other full blown editing packages, you can add a lot to your pictures. From cropping the image to adding all sorts of options for text from simple overlays to wrap around to the unique picture tubes that add a special touch to the picture. You can even convert your pictures into sepia tones or black and white for better printing control. Once your image is just right, there are more options for better printing control, web page development and design, and for emailing the pictures. There is also a new overview window that gives you in a quick and easy spot the details about your image. You can also switch that overview to a preview mode in case you are working on a tiny part of the image to give you perspective on where in your image you are working. You will find that with most of the better image editing programs, there are a lot of features that you won’t come close to using so don’t be held back by the fact there is so much there. What really makes this a great program is that it has all these features and does them very well. So even if you don’t take advantage of them all, this is still a program worth having.
When you read this review, the program will have been out for almost a year and in fact has gone through a lot more changes to correct problems with the original version 8.0 so this one is far cleaner and problem free. Having used the older versions of PSP for years, using this one is a very easy transition. I think though that even if you are new to the program or have used other image editing programs, you will find it easy to use and find what you want to do with your picture. Of course, you really need to try the warp tool for some really crazy effects on your pictures.
Note that Jasc, www.jasc.com was just bought out by Corel.
After traveling what seems like a good part of the country with friends and their GPS (Global Positioning System) units, I decided I need to try one myself. The good news was that they had several units to use during our travels and after looking over their shoulders for many miles and through many changes, decided that I really didn’t care that much for the units they were using and for many reasons, one being the mapping software that each was using, found them all to be not really up to what I was looking for. So to that end, I started to do some research on my own and look even further especially during the latest Comdex computer show in Las Vegas.
What I settled on was the Pharos units and having decided also to get a new Bluetooth capable notebook and PDA, decided on the PT300 Unit. You can see it at www.pharosgps.com. This is the GPS Navigator kit that includes Bluetooth, the Compact Flash (CF) adapter, and the power accessory kit. I was impressed when I opened the box. Everything inside is inside a very nice nylon carrying bag with a lot of pockets and compartments and you will need them as the kit is a bit overwhelming with all the parts you will need. Now I brought this upon myself because I wanted a GPS system that was flexible. You really get a lot. First is the GPS receiver unit. The iGPS-360 is one of the better type units to get because it is flexible. You can connect it to a Bluetooth station or a CF adapter in my case to use with either types of systems and in this package you get both. My package also came with the PXT02 spare battery spare battery and charger kit for the Bluetooth docking station. The battery is rated for 6 hours of continuous use so if you are traveling for any length of time, the spare battery will be handy to have and if you are traveling, it also comes with a car adapter that plugs into a splitter type of unit that allows you to charge both the Bluetooth docking station and your PDA at the same time but you had better check the voltage requirements of your PDA first. My Casio happens to be a 5 volt 2 amp device while the PDA sends out 4.2 volts and 300ma.
Also included in the package is a three foot CF extension cable. If you need to use the CF Adapter with your PDA or want to use it with your notebook, the three foot cable goes between the CF adapter and the GPS unit to allow you to sit the GPS unit on your dashboard. Three other things in the package (besides the software), are a handy nylon belt pack for the GPS, a vent mounted assembly kit for your PDA to keep it handy, and a friction pad that glues to your dashboard to sit the GPS unit on and keep it from sliding around on.
Installing the package is very straight forward. When you open the CD package, you will find it comes with three map CDs and an installation disc. It also comes with a compact and very usable Users Manual and installation guide that steps you through what you need to install. When you put in the Install CD, it gives you an immediate menu of things to install but I would recommend using the guide in the booklet. You need to make sure your Pocket PC is synchronized with your desktop system first so that any loose ends are taken care of. As mine connects documents and my Outlook files I waited until they were done before starting the CD install. The Ostia Navigation software is first installed to both systems and sailed through just fine. You then install the MapFinder software and again, take the defaults and it installed without a hitch. The selection of the maps you will use with the software is a bit more confusing but you can just point to a spot on the map, and tell it to download into your desktop computer and the Pocket PC by right clicking. At this point, you might just double check your Pocket PC to make sure you have enough space available. Nice thing about the software is it will allow you to extract the maps to any device you have available on your computer.
My first use of this product will be with an older Casio Cassiopeia Pocket PC that I have had for a while and since it only has a Compact Flash socket, I need to free up memory and use the CF slot for the GPS unit. Once done with that, installing the software on the Desktop system and Casio sailed through just fine. The next snag I ran into was getting the Casio to recognize the GPS properly. When you bring up the Wizard, you have the option of telling it what kind of GPS you are using (I selected the Compact Flash because it was plugged into the CF Slot), and tell it what kind of Pocket PC and I selected Casio. The first time, it froze the system and I had to hit the reset button on the back of the Casio. Back through the process and it looked like it worked just fine but what the Ostia User manual fails to tell you is that you need to look for the red happy face on the row of icons and enable the GPS. A quick call to Pharos and they told me about it. Now, if I had been reading the other paper manual that came with the iGPS unit, I would have seen the instruction under the section talking about creating the route. The next snag I ran into which ended up prompting another call to Pharos was that once the happy face turned Yellow which tells us that the PDA is now talking to the GPS unit, it refused to find any satellites. I even went out on a couple of very cold days holding my PDA against an open sky back ground and it still did not want to tell me where it was. In my tinkering to figure out why it would not connect, the battery finally died (I was out there a while in the cold), and it lost track of which port it was on. A tip from Pharos tells me to reboot the Pocket PC without the Card in, reset the com ports addressed, and then insert the card. She also told me I would probably have the best results if I used that really slick 3 foot extension cord and so with that, I setup the Pocket PC again and low and behold, it was able to connect with a number of satellites. It looks like having the GPS unit itself away from the computer helps as well. From there, I am able to see how well it connected to the various satellites, pin my own current location on the earth via Longitude and Latitude, and altitude and finally plan my own trips.
At this point, I plugged in the cable again, started up my Casio and prepared for my first trip. Set the Casio into the holder, the GPS on the Dash, fired it up and it worked just great. Put in my address in the Map Finder part of Ostia, and it soon had a signal and prompted me for the turns and directions and took me right where I wanted to go. One of the things Pharos mentions and I agree on is that if you will have your Pocket PC active for any length of time during a trip, you might want to plug it into a power source and use the DC Charging adapter that comes with the kit. I continued to use the Pharos GPS system on my Casio for several more trips and so far have been very pleased with it. In each case, it could find the location I was looking for on its map and did a very good job of finding the address and pointing me to it. A couple of odd things occurred that I suspect is normal. One is that when traveling on a road that is shared, for example, a highway merges with another and is part of it for a distance; it can get confused as to which road you are on and may tell you that you are off course. The other is that when I got very close to an address in a cul de sac, again, it told me I was off course but by then I was nearly on top of the house I was going to. This happened twice to me. Other times, it simply announces you have arrived at your destination.
You have several options in putting in your destination addresses. One is simply to start entering in the address and through its auto completion feature; you can easily pick your town and or county and get your destination. While doing that, you need to remember that sometimes you have to enter an address in a bit differently than you would write it. For instance, to put in 400 East Main Street, you would start with the 400 and then put in Main and then pick whether it is east or west. Same with streets that have something like a North Drive or a South Drive. Once use to it, it is pretty easy to enter and get your destination set. Another option is to pick an address from the address book on your Pocket PC and I found this to work quite well though you have to tell it whether you are using a business or home address. If you do this, again, it may have a difficult time identifying the address based on how you wrote it.
I also have a suspicion about the compact flash connection on my Casio as the system has locked up on me a number of times forcing me to hit the reset button. When this has happened mostly is when the unit looses power and shuts down. Sometimes, it comes back up just where I left off, and sometimes, when I tell it to activate the GPS, it locks up. Again, for road trips, you really should use an external power supply for the pocket pc. One very good reason for that is you don’t have to spend any time after you get your routing setup to worry about whether the PDA will loose power or not and can just concentrate on the driving. Besides, it comes with the package so use it and after I did use it on external power for a couple of trips, it worked just fine. One other thing I liked about the mapping software is that once the route is set, you can then zoom in on the map to give you a comfortable viewing angle to better track the streets and roads you pass as you go. For my Casio, when I want to change maps, I need to uninstall the current one and load a new one only because I use the CF slot for the GPS and so must use internal memory for the maps. If your PDA has either Bluetooth built in or dual memory slots, you can then have a lot more options for storing information on your unit. In that case, the easiest way to transfer maps between host and PDA would be to use the memory cards and a memory card reader on your computer to make it a quicker process and this is what I did on my iPAQ, With it, I used the Bluetooth to connect to the GPS and the memory slots for maps.
The iPAQ that I got from HP was the 2210 series and with most Pocket PCs of this type, you have to install everything from scratch. So, I installed the Pharos software on it after connecting it to the computer and setting up Active Sync and the software, like it did on the Casio, installed just fine with no problems at all. The only snags I ran into was setting up the Bluetooth on the iPAQ. While doing it on the Pharos end was pretty easy, I just unplugged the GPS from the CF Adapter I used for the Casio and plugged it into the Bluetooth holder and then hit the power button on it. The snag was on the port settings on the iPAQ. While the GPS was just sitting on the dashboard, the iPAQ kept on loosing connection with it and so it seems over and over, I would have to tell it to connect. Once connected, my red happy face never found the signal. So digging deeper in the material I got, it tells me I need to be sure the serial ports are set right for the GPS and when you get deep enough into the Bluetooth settings on the iPAQ, you find where it sets the ports. It was a guessing game as it says it used port 5 for incoming and port 8 for outgoing communications. I ended up trying both in the software before the GPS happy face finally turned green. Once it did, I took off on another trip and it stayed connected the whole time and very well led me to my destination. One of the snags I found with the Bluetooth is that if you don’t turn it off on the iPAQ, it can run down the main battery.
During all this, I ended up reading most of the manuals and you really should because there can be some minor things that will catch you like not finding the right instructions for the happy face. On a more amusing note and in the category of where else am I going to put it, or in other words, really cover your can, the booklet that comes with the unit says not to place the unit in direct sunlight for a long period of time nor near a heating unit. They also say do not put it on a surface that vibrates. I guess I will just have to take my chances with it on the dashboard of the car.
Things to quibble about with the software would be the fact you need to load a map before you can tell it where to go. I would kind of hope, once you load a map, it becomes the default. On the Casio, it works ok because the program actually stays in memory all the time running while on the iPAQ, you can close programs. If you do, you must first reload the map.
My final test with the unit was to plug the CF adapter into the GPS receiver, and then with a PC Card adapter, plugged the CF unit into my notebook computer. Since the notebook was running Windows98, I needed to tell it the GPS was just a “serial port”. With the help of a quick email from Pharos, I got it up and running using Microsoft’s Streets and Trips and was able to follow a journey around town just fine. Streets doesn’t do that good a job using the GPS but it was enough to show me that the Pharos unit is usable on all of my devices.
I have really enjoyed using the Pharos GPS system both in the Bluetooth system and connected through the CF Adapter. The Bluetooth, once configured, seems to work very well and it is a great feature not having to worry about the cord between the GPS and the Pocket PC. Get a good extended battery for the Pocket PC and you won’t have to worry about the car power adapter either. In fact, anyone in the car can take the PC and check directions, the map, and do other work while connected to the Bluetooth system. The maps are very easy to understand and depending on how much storage you have on your Pocket PC, can download quite a few to it. Finally, one other neat feature was that as I was traveling, I set the distance shown on them map at 1500 feet. When it got close to my intersection to turn, it dropped it down to 200 feet so you can easily see all the features at that intersection especially if there are other streets nearby. With Bluetooth, I simply put the GPS unit out of the way and with its soft rubber feet, it stays where you put it. As easy as it was to use, I think the next Pocket PC you look for should be Bluetooth enabled and this Pharos unit is highly recommended despite the higher price of under $400. It has really made traveling around much easier when heading to locations I am not familiar with
As the latest round of viruses and worms make their way to my computer, I often thank those of you out there that have let their anti virus programs laps or not update the definition files. I really wish I could point my finger at who ever does this and give them a swift kick in the pants and elsewhere depending on how many have flooded my in box. So whenever a new anti virus program comes out, I like to take a look at it because after the latest flood, I really want to be sure my system is clean and protected. Latest to make my desk was from Hauri, a Korean company, who has recently set up shop on these shores, www.globalhauri.com and what they claimed that caught my eye is that their anti virus program, ViRobot, not only catches more viruses out there than the others, but does it much quicker, and even more importantly, will fix the file on the fly rather than quarantine or delete the file infected. This is probably the most important distinction I have seen yet in an anti virus company. A complete real time eradication of a virus. You don’t have to download a separate fix program to get rid of it or jump through hoops in the registry and elsewhere on your computer.
This company has been around for several years with this product but it looks like just haven’t made that much of an impression in the US Market. When we bumped into them at Comdex, they were showing off how their product caught some typical viruses that McAfee and Symantec did not so I was really interested in taking a closer look. Take the Nimda or Fun Love problems we have all been plagued with. With any of the other programs, you have to get a fix module to get rid of them while with the ViRobot, it does it on the fly. I was a bit skeptical but took a look at the web site www.virusbtn.com, a London based independent virus bulletin. What they do is to test all the leading companies to see how their programs stack up to each other. Now when you look at the web site, and I will continue to pick on Symantec because they are the leader in this field, what you see can be a bit misleading. I went to look at Symantec’s grade and the first thing it tells you is that it passed 22 times and failed 6. What these results really mean is that of the 28 times they tested Symantec’s products over the past several years, 22 times it captured every virus that was thrown at it and six times it did not. So far, their success rate dating back to November 1999 has been 100%. Right now that is pretty impressive to catch every single one the past three years. Look up Network Associates (former McAfee), Grisoft, Kaspersky, and others and you will see a far worse performance. Even Hauri did not do as well over the long term but what we are really interested in knowing is how they are doing today and this report is an informative way of looking at the anti virus companies.
So with all that in mind, the first thing I did was to run the Norton Antivirus 2003 on my notebook and see how long it took to give me some comparison figures to use. With 47,000 plus files to scan, Norton did it in 48 minutes. This is on my IBM ThinkPad which is an older Celeron 333 with 64mb of Ram running Windows98 I picked this computer to use simply because my Norton’s subscription had just recently expired on it so this was a perfect opportunity to install Hauri’s program. Their current product is ViRobot Expert version 4.0. When you start the program, it first tells you to uninstall any of your current anti virus programs and then just closes. So off to Add Remove Programs in control panel and with that, I uninstalled my Norton Anti Virus. For ease of use, I would have preferred that ViRobot do it for me. After uninstalling NAV, I tried to run the setup program again but got an error telling me it was not a valid Win32 bit application. At this point, I needed to uninstalled the rest of Symantec’s products (Live Reg and Live Update), clean up the registry and tried again. One of the more truly irritating things about Symantec programs is that sometimes, they are really hard to get rid of.
Installing the program is pretty simple. Just start up the Setup program and you can easily take all the defaults. You should be connected to the internet when you do that so it can go out and get its updates. In my case, it said it was going to download 7.5 mb of files comprising 40 downloads so I would have thought that with a new CD from them, it would have gone much more quickly. What was also interesting was the Read Me file was dated from February 2002, two years old. An interesting note I found while reading it; according to the license agreement, if you install it on your pager, you cannot install it on your hand held PC, smart phone, or personal computer. Of course, right now they don’t offer versions for any of those. According to the Read Me file, it will still run on an Intel 486 system with 16mb of memory which gives you a lot of flexibility for older computers and older operating systems as well.
Once it is installed, you just need to make sure that it is turned on resident mode to keep actively scanning all incoming files to your computer; this is something I would have thought it would have done automatically. To see how fast it runs, I turned on the scan and checked the time. This scan took 43 minutes, only five minutes faster than the Norton and interestingly enough, scanned fewer files. Does it count the files inside compressed files as well or not. Things like that are difficult to figure out sometimes. What this quick comparison doesn’t tell you is that the program uses far fewer resources of your computer than does Norton. What that means is that you can continue to work on your computer and in fact, I spent most of the time checking email, surfing the web, and working with some zip files all the while it was scanning and still ran faster. In talking to some folks at Hauri, they tell me that they have benchmarked ViRobot to take less than 10 percent of the system resources while scanning while some of the other programs take up to 70%. This was how I was able to actually do some other things on the slow Celeron 333 system I have. I also see that it seems to work with my other applications just fine. Zone Alarm Pro wanted verification before it could go get its updates and that was also just fine. You will also need to tell Zone Alarm to allow the update module to access the internet as well.
The shortcomings that I see so far with this program are in its setup and installation and use and are to be honest, more cosmetic than anything else. While I prefer not to register a program to keep from getting more junk mail, software should make it as painless and easy as possible to get people to do so and Hauri just tells you to go to a web site to register. Like most other packages, you get a one year subscription with installation of the software and according to the manual, it will cost you half the retail price ($20) to renew your subscription.
Getting updates seem a little confusing as well. When you start ViRobot Expert, it will automatically go to the web if you are connected to see if there are any updates if you set the option in the configuration file. You can also launch the update wizard (which really all it does is go get the update), from the tools menu or from the icon in the menu bar. What it doesn’t seem to do is to schedule more frequent updates so if you are off line or don’t shut down the program for any length of time, it might not be up to date. Under the tools menu, you can start up the schedule wizard who will allow you to pick a date or time to either do a full system scan or an update and so what I did was to set it up to update itself each day after midnight. If you use dial up, you probably need to do the update yourself and at a minimum, I would recommend at least weekly.
But you know, the real proof in an anti virus program is what happens when it finds something and right now, I think that ViRobot’s technology is second to none. When ViRobot starts, it will first scan itself to make sure there are no problems and then to check memory and the boot sector. This to me is an important feature as quite often, the first thing a virus targets is the anti virus program and I would want something alerting me if it is not working properly. Too many times I see a disabled McAfee or Norton icon but if you don’t focus on it, you can loose it among all the icons that sit in the system tray and not notice that it is not protecting your computer. Even worse are the viruses that will disable part of the program and you have no hint at all that something is wrong. One of the things I like about Norton is that you see an envelope appear in the task bar each time it checks the contents of incoming email. I like that because it gives you a second indication that it is checking the emails you download and is working. Hauri gave me no such notice. I went to check to be sure it was doing the emails and it shows that Outlook Express is the preferred email client but then shows an empty check box below where I suspect it would tell me which email accounts it was checking. However, when I emailed the test account a virus, Hauri picked it up before it even had a chance to be looked at. And I want to emphasize that to me the biggest advantage that Hauri has is that it will remove the viruses found on the fly. If you look at Symantec’s web site, www.sarc.com, you will find over sixty listed there for everything from Nimda to Sobig to My Doom. ViRobot needs no such tool or removal process to get rid of them both in memory and in running programs. Once found on your system, it is gone. This is a real advantage to server systems where you don’t want to have to shut down the server to remove the viruses that have infected it and then wait for it to be rescanned to make sure they are gone.
Hauri ViRobot Expert is available for $40 downloaded from their web site. If you do buy it, the web site tells you that you will have to wait two to three days for the serial number to arrive by email. I suspect you will be able to check your system because they start with a 30 day free trial so when the serial number comes, you can enter it. The website does contain a lot of information about the products they sell but when I checked the support section, I noticed that there were only seven FAQs listed. In looking at the online PDF manual I got, while extensive, the pictures and images are difficult to read. ViRobot looks like it was written by programmers for programmers and that leaves people not used to such quirks wondering where things are. I really like how Symantec’s Norton Anti Virus displays how things stand, I hope that the folks at Hauri will soon update the user interface to give us a better idea as to where we stand with the subscription and date of the virus definitions. In short, the technology advantages to ViRobot and the real time virus removal are the major pluses along with the fact that it is not such a resource hog for older computers. For the time being though, for those people who can’t seem to keep the anti virus programs updated and want something easy to check, I would still recommend the Norton Anti Virus because I think it does a better job keeping your system up to date. For advanced users, take a good look at ViRobot.
Executive Software Diskeeper
I help a lot of people with computer problems and one of the things I discovered that seems to take a lot of time is running a virus scan. As computers get larger hard drives and people continue to fill them with large programs, I have seen virus scans take over an hour to complete and in some cases almost two hours. I can’t imagine what it will do when people start to have 250Gig drives in the not so distant future. One solution to help this I have discovered is to use a defragmenter program on a regular basis. In the past, I have not really worried about it too much because unless you constantly add and remove software packages from your computer, things really don’t get that much fragmented so I would not really worry about it. Performance is another reason to defrag a system but it always seemed to be a real question as to how much you gained by doing it. It certainly makes life easier on your hard drive by not having to bounce all over the platters to get your data files but again, with longer lasting drives and faster computers, do you really see a difference? So I decided to install Executive Software’s Diskeeper, www.execsoft.com, and see what it will say about my own computer. It comes in a variety of configurations from home users at $30 to enterprise versions. I know that Windows has a built in defrag program and I have used it but the information you get out of it is often limited. I also wanted a tool that monitors the system status on a regular basis to keep it in shape and so it seems like it was time to give this a try.
Installing Diskeeper Pro is very straightforward. Start the CD and it goes on its own. You can go online to register but not to worry if you don’t because when you run it after you have installed it, it asks you to go online to check for updates and so you can get the latest patch. Start Diskeeper and it gives you an informative map of your system. You click on each drive and tell it to analyze the drive and each of its partitions. I have two physical 80 gigabyte drives on my computer and have the second drive partitioned into three drives. Once the drives are analyzed, you have several tabs of information to look at. The first performance tab tells you what to expect to gain if you defrag. On my system’s C drive, it tells me that in reading fragmented files, I could expect a 45% improvement and would see a 29% improvement in reading all my files. I am impressed already. The next tab is Reliability. It gives you an indication of how much fragmented your drive is (mine was 66%), and whether it thinks your drive is healthy or not. In my case, it marked it as critical as it told me that the master file table was fragmented into 268 pieces. Definitely a time for cleanup. The third tab is Fragmentation and it gives you a detailed report of the condition of the drive which you can either save or print out. It gives you information on your volume size, amount of free space, and a detailed report on the number of files and percent fragmentation on them. In my case, I had an average of 2.4 fragments per file on over 51,000 files. The Drive Map tab shows you a graphic picture of the drive and how it is fragmented with a legend showing you which files are system files, unfragmented files, reserved, and the like. One of the things that probably doesn’t help my drive is the fact I use Partition Magic’s Drive Image to make images of my other drives and save them on my C drive. They take up 11 gigabytes of space and each time I back up the system, I delete the file and rebuild it. The last tab is the “Set It and Forget It tab to give you detailed notes on how you can set it to automatically schedule your defrag so it runs when you are not busy with your computer.
Once the analysis was done with my machine, I had the defrag program take off and it finished drive C in under 3 hours. Great time considering how long I have waited in the past for it to complete. The report told me I should see a 20% improvement in disk access and load times and that I now have no fragmented files or segments anywhere. My Reliability tab shows a clean system and now that it does look much better, will run the disk image program to make a set of current backups. The Set It and Forget It section is also easy to use. Click the tab and it will tell you what you need to do to schedule your defrag jobs. The way the intelligent scheduler works is that it will first check the drive and if not needed skip it each day. You can also set the schedule to work on a custom basis which is what I did. Normally, it will block out the times between 4:am and 10:pm but since I often work later, I can easily change it to block out between 6:am and Midnight and as badly as my drives were fragmented, six hours is more than enough time to do its thing. At least it should be as when you schedule it, I see that it sets it to the lowest system priority so it will take longer than normal but then again, at that time of night, there shouldn’t be much else running. With all the options, you can even set it to weekend mode, screen saver mode, or any other you choose. There are even power management modes so that if you are using a laptop and it is unplugged at the time, it won’t start to kill your battery. There are a number of other performance options including telling it to do a more thorough analysis of your drive data. You can also tell it not to defrag certain files and folders if they need to remain where they are. The help files in Diskeeper are very good at explaining what it does and what each of these options are for.
I really like this new version of Diskeeper and the interface. It is very clear and informative in what is presented to you and does an excellent job of keeping you informed as to the state of your disk drives.
Windows XP Event Viewer
Windows XP has been out for quite a while now and I can easily say that it is far better than what ever Microsoft had before. Having said that, I can also say it certainly has its own frustrating moments and quirks built in. With XP, the good news is that it really does take the problem of software crashing to a much more safer level in that it will not hurt your computer when it does happen as it does a very good job of isolating those problems. The bad news is that when Windows decides that all is not right, it can just simply shut it self down and leave you with very little alternatives to figure out what is going on. The dreaded “Blue Screen of Death” is gone in Windows XP and has been replaced with a cryptic and still blue screen that says your computer has been stopped for your own protection. Now sometimes, you can see what caused the problem by bringing up the computer into safe mode (still the same old way of continuously hitting the F8 key before Windows XP gets a chance to start up) and taking a look at a new tool built just for this, the Event Viewer.
Click on Start, All Programs, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer (Windows XP Pro) or Start, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer (Windows XP Home). What it does is show you a listing of Application, Security, and System notes in the left pane. Click on one of them and you will see a detailed listing of everything going on in your computer. What you look for are the Warnings and the Red X alerts. They will give you all sorts of detail when you double click on them about the error that happened and sometimes, tell you where to go for more information.
One such event happened to a computer recently. What happened is that the computer would suddenly start to reboot itself and would get into a loop where it starts to boot, shows the Windows XP splash screen, and then reboot. A never ending cycle. A look at Microsoft’s web site unfortunately didn’t come up with much but do a search on the News Groups on Google showed it to be quite a wide spread problem. Unfortunately it requires reinstalling Windows but what turned out to be the ultimate culprit was the hard drive. If you suspect the drive at any point, you can download disk diagnostic utilities from the manufacturer, and in this case, it was Western Digital Diagnostics and it found a problem with the drive. In this case, we never had a hint that there was a problem with the drive but when things kept on failing big time, I thought, it just couldn’t be Windows.
Antec Computer Cases
One of the things I really enjoyed about Comdex was looking at all the cases available for building your own computer. As I build several computers a year, I get to pick and choose but usually just take something standard and useable and affordable. This time I decided to get an all aluminum case and picked the Super Lanboy from Antec, www.antec.com. I wanted to see whether a really cool case is worth the effort or is it just a bunch of marketing hooey. Well, the first thing I noticed is how light it is. This case does not come with a power supply so I decided to not splurge too badly and go with the TruePower 430 watt power supply also from Antec. It is rated one of the quieter supplies you can buy. So, as I said, the first impression of the fact the case is lighter than the power supply, and it is very clean inside. Lots of drive bays available but you know, it feels a bit flimsy. Two little problems I found right away is that when you unscrew the side panels and try to remove them, you are in danger of bending the case if it doesn’t want to come loose. As you probably have seen, with side panels, they often have about twelve of the little metal flanges that lock into the case to give you a real tight fit. Well, if they are too tight, you might damage the case just getting it off. I also discovered that when I tried to install the power supply, one small piece of aluminum had been bent (no, I didn’t bend it putting the supply in), and so I had to get a pair of pliers to straighten it out. I also noticed another bent piece where the cute little accessory tray is mounted on the front of the unit. I was nearly ready to send it back until I took a close look at both of them to discover the problems and fix them.
Besides the option of choosing my own power supply, It comes standard with two 120 mm fans built into the case, one in the front with a cool blue led, and one in the back of the case. I like these bigger fans because they are slower while still sending as much air through the system. The internal hard drive bays (of which there are four of them), are easy to mount and remove and have rubber mounts to help dampen vibration on the drives. The five external drive bays; 3 5.25 drives and 2 3.5 inch drives mount pretty much like any other so you don’t need to use specialized drive rails which to me is an advantage. Like most case manufacturers, they give you a bag of different screws but don’t tell you what they go to so if you have built systems before, you can pretty well guess but as always, there are some rather odd screws that you don’t have a clue as to what they go to. And speaking of odd screws, usually the back fans are connected by four screws to the case but in the Antec, they use rubber self attaching screws that you pull through holes on the back of the case and then snip them off. So the back fan is attached by rubber mounting screws to help dampen vibrations. If you need to replace this fan, they give you only two more of the rubber mounting screws. Go figure.
Removing the front cover requires removing six metal screws that hold it on but then it doesn’t go far because of a connector between the fan and the front. You barely have room to get to the back side of the front to remove the face plates for the external drives and while they are plastic covers to the drive bays, they are very tight so it was difficult getting them off. Having put my mainboard into the case, I still wish that it was made of sturdier aluminum. The trays that you put the hard drives into are at a right angle to the rest of the external drives so if you want to span a cable between them, you need a really long one. The trays are also pretty flimsy. They have rubber grommets that you mount the drives through to give it a damping effect but the trays are pretty loose inside the case so they can easily bounce around.
For more details, it does contain two front USB ports, and a front panel audio connectors if your mainboard can support them. As with any case, with Two CD Rom drives, floppy, and a couple of hard drives, the cable clutter gets pretty thick. I am using the new Cobra from Antec (about $15) to give me more breathing room for the interior and higher performance, or so they say. However, if I use the rounded cable, it is really difficult to get the side panel on because the cable sticks out too much. The flat cable would easily fit in the small space on the side mounted drives. And finally, it does come with the neatest carrying strap for carrying around your computer.
Now that the case has been in use for a week, I find that it is much quieter than my previous one despite the fact that there are now five fans spinning inside there. There are two on the power supply, the two 120mm fans on the front and back of the case, and the CPU fan and I suspect, it is the CPU Fan that is now the noisiest in the case. Will replace that next time I get inside. One thing I do wish companies would start doing is to space out the USB Ports on the cases and mainboards. With these USB Drives, they do take up some space and it gets hard to have two of them side by side.
The case is available from Compusa for $90 and the Antec Truepower Power Supply model 430 is $100. Quite a far cry from the Premier cases I usually get from my distributor which sells for around $50 including the power supply. I think for the $190 for this case and power supply combo, while very cool, with the blue led fan on the front, the clear plastic side panel to show off lights or what ever inside the box, including the fact that the CPU fan is still spinning, and the very quiet way it is built, this is a pretty nice case but at $190, a bit over priced. I will continue looking at others to use.
ZyXEL Communications, Inc.
ZyXEL is the kind of company you turn for to get seriously secure connections for you network or internet. They have been around since 1989 and in the past when ever I ran into one of their boxes, I usually realize two things. One is that someone has invested in some very good and reliably secure hardware for their network, and the second is that it is usually a complicated setup that is going to take me time to figure out. What I mean is that unlike other routers where you simply plug them in and hit your blue E for internet explorer, this one requires decisions and setup. So I enjoyed the chance to talk to these folks at Piero’s. In the past, they have targeted medium and large businesses but they have some new products that are directed to smaller home and offices that caught my attention. What is new is their ZyAIR Hot Spot in a box kit. For $649, you can set up your own internet wireless hot spot gateway and with the software and hardware built in, can bill your customers on the spot for their air time. I mean, anyone can start their own internet café with this unit. The account generator and receipt printer that comes with the unit gives your customer a user name and password, and a line telling them how much time they just purchased. What is also great about this unit is the Layer 2 Isolation which really means that wireless and wired users on the network cannot see anyone else. It also uses SSL (Secured Sockets Layer, which is like the little padlock on your browser) to keep user ids and passwords secure as well. With other business features like login page redirection and advertising links, this is a great package for a startup internet access business. With some of their other home based offerings, it looks like they have done a lot to make their products easier to integrate in a home or office network and that is great news.
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