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!

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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!

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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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Printer / Scanner!

Clementine‘s Canon printer and Epson scanner have both been replaced with a wireless Canon MG6120 Photo All-In-One printer.  Since this is a wireless printer/scanner/copier (through Wifi), it’s no longer considered a part of Clementine and is now instead considered a shared resource.

Both the previous printer and scanner were great and largely working fine, but this will be a beneficial upgrade on several fronts.  The fact that it’s wireless means it’s no longer dependent on anyone computer.  Sure, Windows can share printers, but then you have to make sure the host computer is powered on.  In my computing environment, where I have 3 computers spread over 2 floors, there’s no guarantee that Clementine will be powered on and it might be inconvenient to go and turn it on.  In this vein, the new printer can actually automatically open up the paper output tray when a print job comes in.  So, as long as the printer is on (in a standby mode), any other computer can print.  Great!

Also, over time it has become more and more desirable to be able to occasionally do a quick copy, without having to start up a photo editing program, scan, save, and print.  This new multifunction unit will streamline that workflow quite a bit.

So far, I really like this printer / scanner.  It was very easy to set up, and the features all seem to work really well and are easy to use.  I already love Canon printers, and the scan quality is quite good as well.  I’ve always been weary of multifunction devices, but I did a lot of research and this particular one seems to be great.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the old printer and scanner were two of the oldest components in Clementine.  The Canon printer was 5 years old, but the Epson scanner is an amazing 10 years old — it’s seen many computers come and go and has continued to perform well in all that time.  You will be missed, Epson!

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Blu-Ray Burner

My holiday upgrade this year was adding a Blu-ray burner to Clementine.  I’ve always been interested in the large storage capacities of Blu-ray discs (25GB on a single layer), so had long planned on getting a burner in 2011.  However, recently I bought an HD camcorder, so I decided to speed up the acquisition of a Blu-ray burner so that the videos could be stored in their full-HD glory.  So far, so good.  Blu-ray burners are still somewhat in their infancy, but this drive (an LG 10x model) had consistently good reviews and was at a good price point.  I’ve only had it a few days, so I haven’t tested it exhaustively, but I did burn one Blu-ray video disc using Pinnacle Studio and it turned out successfully, so I’m optimistic about it.

This drive replaces a basic Compaq OEM DVD-ROM drive.  I decided to replace this drive because it was one of the oldest components in Clementine, and that drive was long and sometimes hard to work with inside the case.  Since I chose to replace the DVD-ROM, that means I still have my Plextor DVD burner as well, so now Clementine has two optical disc burners.  I figure that’s OK — the Plextor drive is newer and better than the older Compaq drive, so even if it only gets used for reading now, I’d rather hold on to that drive.  And who knows — maybe I’ll want to burn two DVDs at once someday!

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