New monitor

Clementine, my primary desktop, has had dual monitors for the past few years.  One of them (a Samsung SyncMaster 940BX) dates back to my old desktop, Fozzie, and was the oldest computer component currently in use.  The other was identical to that one, purchased a couple years later just for Clementine.  When my wife and I consolidated onto one machine, I took the opportunity of having two identical monitors to get a dual monitor setup.

Now, several years later, one of them has become my oldest component.  The other one has started acting up — randomly being blurry in some spots on the screen.  A good deal of time has passed for both of them, and monitors are much better nowadays — these Samsungs are starting to show their age.

So, I decided to replace both of them with one, single, high-quality, widescreen monitor.  Selecting a monitor is a delicate process because it’s going to be your primary window into the computer for many years (hopefully!).  I knew I wanted it to be widescreen, roughly the same height as my current monitors (which meant 22 – 24 inches diagonal), have an LED backlight, and, if possible, have an IPS panel.  IPS is the current cream-of-the-crop for monitors, with extremely wide viewing angles and bright, crisp colors.   I also wanted a monitor where, based on online feedback, I’d be confident that I had a lower-than-average risk of dead pixels.  After much searching, I settled on the Dell S2340M.  It met all of those criteria, and was priced very nicely to boot.

So far, I’m really happy.  This monitor seem to be very high-quality at a great price.  IPS is as good as I’ve heard.  High image quality, crisp colors, even backlighting, wide viewing angles, extremely small bezel, and it looks sleek and modern as well.

And, so far, I don’t miss having two monitors.  Having a widescreen seems to mostly make up for that.  For home use, I don’t find that two monitors is necessary most of the time (I find dual monitors indispensable at work, though).  My plan is that if I ever find I need a second screen for a particular task, I’ll just spend the $10 and get AirDisplay for my iPad, which allows it to act as a second screen.

Posted in Clementine Fozzie by Greg Leedberg. No Comments

Newly added computers

After an excessively long contemplation period, I’ve decided to add two new machines to my family of computers.  One in particular I’ve had for a while, but the issue at hand was whether to consider them truly part of my family of computers, or just simply consumer electronics devices.  I’ve decided they’re part of my computer family.

First — my third-generation iPad, Clifford.  I’ve had him since March, 2012, so he is not new to the household.  Prior to this, my wife and I had found ourselves increasingly storing my laptop, Beaker, behind the couch and using him to quickly check emails, look up actors in movies, etc.  But, as we did more of this, we also increasingly became aware of how bad a Windows laptop is for this use case.  You have to wait for the machine to boot up, deal with update notifications, wait for software to load, and then when you’re done, you have a big laptop to either put on the coffee table, or put back behind the couch.  This wasn’t working.

So, somewhat on a leap of faith, I decided that a tablet would probably be a better fit, and did some research, and decided on the iPad.  I can say that the iPad indeed has been great at fulfilling this use case.  It has no boot-up time, has a user interface that is streamlined for the task at hand, and requires minimal maintenance.  And the fact that it’s slim and light means it’s fine to just set it down on the coffee table, as if it were a magazine.  It doesn’t look out of place.  Clifford very quickly overtook Beaker entirely for these sorts of tasks — I daresay that Clifford is now our primary computer, in terms of how much we use it directly.

Second — my third-generation Apple TV, Beauregard.  I just recently got this a couple weeks ago.  Several years ago, I got my first Home Theater PC, Scooter.  It seemed like it would be useful to have a small PC, permanently connected to the TV.  I didn’t know 100% what we would use it for, other than Netflix, so I wanted it to be really flexible.  In this vein, I got a small-form-factor PC, running Windows.  This way, I could do anything on my TV that I could do from my PC.  That was a big positive, especially in order to allow me to explore how best to fit a HTPC into our lives.  But there were certainly negatives, too — a cursor/window/desktop-based user interface is not the most couch-friendly way to interface with a TV, and since it was a relatively low-powered general-purpose PC, it would sometimes lack the horsepower for some tasks (like HD Netflix streaming).  But despite these drawbacks, we really discovered what we use it for: Netflix, Pandora, downloaded iTunes content, and some website streaming (like from TV network sites).

I typically put my machines on roughly 4-year upgrade cycles, so as Scooter was nearing this mark I began thinking of how best to replace it, now that I knew what we used it for.  I spent a long period of time researching various options, and eventually decided that the Apple TV was pretty much the only option that would A) Allow us to do everything we currently do with no sacrifices and B) Improve on the things we already do.  And so far, I’ve been incredibly happy with the purchase.  It has built-in Netflix streaming, and since it uses hardware video decoding and is optimized for this task, and it can handle even Netflix’s new Super-HD streaming quality (which looks almost as good as Blu-Ray and has surround sound!).  It has built-in support for iTunes-purchased media.  It can integrate with iTunes running on a PC in order to play home movies or other videos stored on the PC.  And through AirPlay, you can send anything you can access from your iPhone or iPad to the Apple TV — this covers Pandora, website streaming, etc.  And in a lot of ways, handling those sorts of tasks via AirPlay is actually better than having built-in support for it.  I certainly would rather browse to a website from my iPad with its virtual keyboard and then send the video, rather than try to type on a TV screen.  It pulls the “fiddly” user interface elements closer to you.  It’s entirely worked up my expectations, with no issues.  Excellent.

So why did I wait so long to add these new machines, particularly Clifford?  Because these are fundamentally different from the machines I’ve previously listed here.  Desktop PCs allow for building and upgrading of parts.  They’re “real” PCs.  You don’t upgrade parts on an iPad, or Apple TV.  They feel like a different type of device — consumer electronics.  But, they take over the same tasks as traditional PCs — and in many cases do them better.  My iPad has almost completely displaced my laptop — the laptop only comes out in very specific cases now.  My Apple TV Beauregard has banished my old HTPC Scooter to the basement TV.  I think this trend will continue to some degree — this is the “post-PC” world Apple talks about.  If I don’t count consumer electronics devices as computers, in ten years I won’t have any computers!  So in the end, I decided that devices like this will be considered part of my family of computers if they assume at least part of the role of a traditional computer that I already listed here.

It’s a brave new world!

Posted in Beaker Beauregard Clifford Scooter by Greg Leedberg. No Comments

Networking upgrades

I recently completed the final steps of my multi-step plan to transition to 802.11n for my home network.  I previously had upgraded Clementine to have a 802.11n adapter.  The next step was to upgrade my router.  Previously I had a standard Actiontec 802.11g router that was issued with my Verizon FiOS service.  Since Verizon now offers an 802.11n version of this router, and a Verizon-issued router is required in order to provide network access to the set-top box, I decided to buy the new 802.11n Actiontec router and replace the existing one.  The alternative would have been to daisy-chain a third-party router off of the Verizon router, but I wanted to attempt to not make the set up more complicated.  With that new router in place, Clementine’s adapter can now work at its 802.11n speeds.  The final step was to get a new 802.11n adapter for Beaker, my laptop.  I went with a micro adapter from On Networks.

On the whole, I do see increased speeds, but have been somewhat underwhelmed with 802.11n.  Based on my own experience and subsequent Googling, it seems that 802.11n is much more temperamental than 802.11g — in order to get the maximum advertised speeds you really need just the right combination of adapter, router, and environment.  Without that perfect mix, speeds fallback to a default of 65Mbps — which is faster than 802.11g, but not by much.  And getting that perfect mix can be more luck than skill, as there are so many variables.

Clementine seems to be getting speeds around that 65Mbps fallback speed for transfers internally within my network, and Beaker seems to be getting slightly faster than that.  And the other wireless clients — iPhones, iPads, etc. — are able to get the full speed of my 50Mbps internet connection.  So that’s all positive.  But, nowhere near the 300Mbps speeds that you see advertised on boxes.  I’m sure these devices are all capable of that under the right conditions, but it sure is difficult to achieve those speeds, even as a person who is relatively knowledgeable about technical things.

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Minor changes

Just had a few minor changes for Clementine recently.  For one, her keyboard (a Logitech L710 wireless model) started having issues where some keys didn’t work reliably.  So, I swapped that out and replaced it with a spare I had lying around — a generic Dell keyboard that came with Scooter, my HTPC, but that I never used.  It’s actually a pretty nice keyboard, with a nice feel to the keys.  I may still eventually get a new wireless keyboard, but for the time being a wired one is OK — the layout of my desk doesn’t require a wireless one.

While I was doing this swap, I decided to also remove my Logitech webcam, Plantronics headset, and Radio Shack headset/speaker switch.  These components were all acquired together for the purpose of videoconferencing many years ago, but these days, if I’m going to videoconference, I do it on my iPad or iPhone.  They provide a much better form factor for video conferencing than a desktop computer.  So I figured it was time to simplify and get rid of those components rather than keeping them but not using them.

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WiFi adapter & Hard Drive

Two recent upgrades to mention:

First, back in December, I replaced Clementine’s 802.11g WiFi adapter with a new TP-LINK 802.11n adapter.  This is the first step in a multi-step plan I have to upgrade my home network to all-802.11n.  Since Clementine’s adapter has been upgraded prior to the router, she doesn’t yet see the full speed that the new adapter is capable of.  But, even with just this upgrade, I have found that speeds between Clementine and my other computers have almost doubled.  The old adapter was, well — old.  One of the oldest components I had still in use, in fact.  That adapter started out as an adapter for Waldorf, my machine built out of spare parts in 2005.  The next step in my 802.11n plan will be to upgrade my router, at which point I’ll see the full effect of the new adapter.

Also, one of Clementine’s hard drives got upgraded.  Clementine has two hard drives, one for OS/applications, and one for data.  The 500GB data drive seemed huge 3 years ago when I got it, but having a child and taking endless amounts of HD home videos has resulted in that drive filling up much quicker than expected.  So, it has been replaced with a Western Digital WD Black 2TB drive.  Hopefully, this will last me at least another 3 years before it fills up as well!

Posted in Clementine by Greg Leedberg. Comments Off on WiFi adapter & Hard Drive

New case fan

This is a delay (and minor) update, but back in October, Clementine’s case fan started making noise.  It was over five years old, so I got my money’s worth out of it, with no hard feelings.  I did my research to find a replacement fan, and came to the conclusion that the same fan, an Enermax 80mm with magnetic bearings, was still the best option.  I have been happy with it all these five years — it’s nearly silent and moves a decent amount of air.  If I get another five years out of the replacement, I’ll still be happy!

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Minor hardware swap

I love the keyboard and mouse combo that I have for Clementine — a Logitech LX710 wireless keyboard and matching LX7 wireless mouse.  I love that combo so much, in fact, that the set I have for Clementine is actually the second I’ve owned — the first was for my old (retired) desktop, Fozzie.  However, after 5 years of use, the mouse on Clementine started to have an odd duplicate-click issue — if you clicked the mouse, sometimes it register as two (or more!) clicks.  A Google search turned up lots of other people with this issue on mice after they’ve hit a certain age, but no solutions.  I’m happy with the five years I got out of that mouse, so I don’t hold a grudge.  Rather, I took the exact spare set that I have still hanging around from Fozzie, and swapped that in place.  This set is actually older (going on six years old now!), so hopefully it doesn’t start to show its age as well anytime soon!

Posted in Clementine Fozzie by Greg Leedberg. No Comments

A Big Upgrade for Clementine

Clementine, the primary desktop for me and my wife, recently underwent a major upgrade.  The idea was to upgrade just the CPU, and anything necessitate by upgrading the CPU.  Which ended up meaning the CPU, CPU cooler, motherboard, and memory.  And since I was doing all this anyway, I decided to upgrade to Windows 7 at the same time.  The upgrade wasn’t without its hiccups (the stock CPU cooler was defective!), but in the end Clementine is now running great with a new Intel Core i7 CPU.  For pictures and commentary of the rebuild, check out this page.

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Video card meltdown

Clementine was lucky enough to get yet another unplanned upgrade recently, this time a new video card.  Why?  Because her previous one failed (specifically, it blew a capacitor).  I’m a big fan of the card that was previously in Clementine — an EVGA GeForce 7100GS.  It’s an Nvidia chipset; it’s a silent, fanless card; and it’s not super powerful, since I don’t game, so it was very reasonably priced.

But, all of a sudden one day, it started acting up.  While using Clementine, you would randomly get multi-colored pixelization, and after a while of the pixelization, the machine would hang.  From the beginning I suspected this was the video card failing, but I did try other easy things first — update driver, update Windows, reduce resolution, turn off Aero… the last two helped prolong the time before Clementine would hang, but nothing actually fixed the problem.

So I ordered a more modern, but very similar card to replace the failing one — an EVGA GeForce 210.  Still nVidia, still silent, and still modestly powerful but well-priced.  Since it’s four years later, it’s significantly more powerful than the 7100GS it replaces.  It also adds an HDMI port in place of the S-Video port my previous card had.  Great card so far.  And it’s a PCI Express 2.0 card, so my current motherboard is holding it back, but I’m planning to replace the motherboard next year, so this card will grow with that upgrade as well.

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A card reader for Clementine

Clementine got an unplanned upgrade — a front panel card reader!  I’ve never gone out of my way to include card readers in my machines, but over the last couple years I’ve really started using flash cards for cameras, phones, and other devices, so it made sense to make it easier to get files off of the cards and onto my computer.  Back in August, I bought a simple external USB card reader (the kind that looks like a flash drive, but a card plugs into).  But then I lost it!  And as I was considering replacing it, I decided that that’s the sort of thing that’s likely to get lost again.  So I decided to get an internal one that becomes part of the front panel.  It’s a Koutech model which fits in a 3.5-inch drive bay, so it’s not terribly obtrusive, and it supports just about every card format on the market — it even has a dedicated MicroSD slot, so no need for adapters!  And it also adds an additional USB port to the front panel.  I already have the two that are part of the case, but this puts one higher up — so I’ll probably actually use this one more.  A good unit as far as I can tell!

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