Tech

A tutorial I produced for adding an optical drive to an ASUS F551m/X551m laptop for those who may have purchaced one without an optical drive.

Blu-Ray Burn It

These days lots of people are taking tons of digital photos and videos. These files (along with with movies, important documents, application files etc.) tend to eat up a lot of hard drive space, and before long, your phone/tablet/laptop/desktop computer is clogged up. 

I've mentioned it many times: if you want to keep the most important files, back them up. Don't rely on a single computer (or worse, mobile device or camera SD card) as the single storage space of all your digital creations and memories. Hard drives (and yes, also Solid State Drives) eventually fail, and when they do, they tend to take your data to the grave with them.

I've recommended various backup strategies before, (external hard drives, thumb drives, online storage, DVD-R disks, etc.) and I still recommend those, but currently there's one backup method I find the most cost-effective of all. 

The Blu-Ray Burner. 

These highly versatile drives used to cost a small fortune, and were pretty much reserved for high-end videographers and professionals. Now, their cost has fallen dramatically, and just as importantly, so has blank Blu-Ray media.

Here's a very versatile setup I recommend that will have you covered:

DRIVEPioneer Blu-Ray Writer BDR-209DBK -$65

OPTIONAL (but highly recommended): Anker USB 3.0 to SATA adapter -$22

MEDIA: Spindle of 50: 25GB BD-R Single Layer Blu-Ray Blank Media -$29

 

The Pioneer drive is a solid performer. You can save some money by buying this "bare drive" version, ready to install in any PC with available SATA ports. I recommend the Anker USB 3.0 to SATA adapter- this is all you need to use this drive as-is with most any modern PC or Mac desktop or laptop (as long as it has USB ports), no installation required. You can buy a fancier "external" or slimline Blu-Ray burner, but really, why bother?

BE CAREFUL: Not to confuse a Blu-Ray PLAYER drive, or Blu-Ray/DVD-R combo drive with a Blu-Ray WRITER. What we're wanting from this, is the ability to write to blank BD-R media. Player drives only read/playback existing Blu-Ray discs, and combo drives often burn DVD-R media, but only read/play Blu-Ray discs.

Each blank Blu-Ray discs holds a whopping 25GB each, or in the case of Dual Layer discs, 50GB each. Also be careful to buy high-quality writable media that's reliable. (At around $.60 each disc, you don't want to be burning 'coasters'.) The linked media paired with the Pioneer drive make for a fantastically reliable combo. 

Keep in mind, a spindle of 50 discs gives you a massive 1.25 TB of storage. 

SOFTWARE:

For Windows, I recommend the excellent free software Burnaware.  (Download the free version. When installing, select a custom install so you can uncheck any unwanted shareware add-ons. Keep in mind, this very basic software will allow you to burn DATA discs. For more advanced Blu-Ray disc types (like HD movie discs with full menus) you'll need more specialized (and fairly costly) software. My recommendation is NERO. 

For Mac, I recommend the old standby, Roxio's Toast Titanium

At 25GB per disc, you can back up years worth of media and files quickly, and very cost-effectively.

Yes, of course any Blu-Ray burner drive can also play commercial Blu-Ray movies at full 1080p resolution. On both a PC and Mac you'll need specialized software, as neither operating system has the needed playback software/codecs (requiring a license) built-in. Macs in particular aren't very Blu-Ray video friendly, as the company has shunned the format from the start. Right out of the box though, MacOS will read Blu-Ray data discs, however.

A Blu-Ray burner will also of course burn CD-Rs and DVD-R discs. The versatility of this type of drive makes it very much a bargain.

By the way: For those wondering, YES, the recommend Pioneer drive CAN rip digital copies of commercial Blu-Ray disc movies. Again, you'll need software that allows this process (mainly skirting copy-protection), but the hardware presents no restrictions to this. (Which by the way, isn't the case with every PC Blu-Ray drive).

If your laptop or desktop PC already includes a Blu-Ray burner- contrats! You've got the best bang-for-buck backup solution going for you already. If it doesn't, consider that the ticking time bombs that are most all of our computer drives WILL eventually buy the farm and take down our data with them. An effective backup strategy is an esseintial way to combat that.

I harp on this a lot, because I never like to see people I know upset because they lost some irreplaceable data. (Videos and photos of kids, family, friends, etc, or crucial work.) And yet, I see it happen. Trusting important data to just one hard drive location is flirting with disaster. In the (inevitable) event of a crash, it's always a good feeling to know everything is backed up- like on that small library of BD-R discs.

To be certain I love good ol’ fashioned printed books. I like turning physical pages, unique  page sizes and formats that fit the material, and just holding a nicely printed book in my hands.

But technology marches onward. Book stores, record stores and video stores are disappearing as brick and mortar locations, and resurfacing as electronic devices you hold in your hand with content delivered digitally. 

So once you decide to at least partially embrace this new concept, the question becomes which of these ‘electronic storefronts’ to choose from? One should consider the current hardware and software pros and cons, but also the long term bigger picture: which ecosystem of electronic content delivery will you be buying into?

I’ve tried to boil down all the various stats, tech jargon, and hoopla into just the pros and cons that matter most, and for just the devices that I think are the most worthy ownership candidates.


RULE #1: Avoid cheap no-name tablets! 

“But this one is only $49…!”

Don’t be fooled. Avoid it! 

Virtually all no-name tablets seek to cash-in on the current tablet craze and generally suffer from the same problems, which in a nutshell are:

1. Poor touch-screen sensitivity, making for a frustrating and slow experience as many of your touch commands don’t register. Good capacitive touch components aren’t dirt-cheap!

2. Low screen resolution. Fewer pixels means harder on your eyes for long periods of time, poor text rendering and subpar photo, web and video experience.

3. Poor battery life. A device that must be too-frequently tethered to a charger fails to be an effective ‘portable’ device, which a tablet should be.

4. Questionable OS and software support. This may not seem a big deal, but long-term this is part of recognizing a tablet as an extension of a larger ‘electronic storefront’ and ecosystem(s).  While it’s good not to be too tied down (as I’ll get into later) it’s another thing entirely to be completely left out in the cold with shoddy manufacturer support for OS and software updates.


My 7" Tablet Roundup

In the 7” arena, these are the contenders (from reputable companies with a track record of making quality products) I would recommend considering, along with the pros and cons of each.

#1.  The Google Nexus 7  ($229) 

Still my favorite choice for a variety of reasons.

 

UPDATE: SInce I wrote this post, Google has updated the Nexus 7 with even greater stats than listed in this post, while the price has only gone up $30. Specifically, the screen is now 1920 x 1200 at 323 ppi, which translates to one of the best if not THE best screens of any 7" tablet on the market. The processor is also quad core with 2GB of RAM making this a very capable tablet. My recommendation has only strengthened based on the stellar deal that the new Nexus 7 is.

 

Pros:

1.Flexible content choice. Understand how important this is. Google creates the underlying operating system of all Android devices, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet devices. Therefore, while the others limit you to their ‘ecosystems’ only (at least in Amazon’s case) Google’s own device runs everything theirs do as well as Google’s own. Yes, Google would like you to buy content through their Play Store, but in promoting an open platform for others to build on as well, their pure Android system has no limitations on software and content choices. Because Android is so open, you can customize just about everything to your liking, from the overall interface (launcher) to the on-screen keyboard/layout you type with, to what applications you read/listen/watch content with etc. 

2. A stellar screen. The high-resolution 1280×800 IPS screen means text is sharp for comfortable reading and images and video are pleasant to view. (Update: new specs are 1920×1200 at 323ppi)

3. A front facing camera. Connect via WIFI, fire up Skype, and realize that the handheld videophone is today’s reality. 

4. A host of useful tech features, including a later/better version of Android (4.2 Jellybean) than the competition. A fast processor, 16 or 32GB of onboard memory for storing content on the device, up to 10 hours of battery life, as well GPS function. (Yes, after downloading a cache of map data for a given region, the Nexus 7 operates as a full-fledged GPS unit with turn-by-turn directions). 

 

 Cons:

1. The only real con with the Nexus 7 is no external storage via microSD like the Barnes and Nobel Nook HD has. This means storage of content is limited to the onboard 16GB or 32GB. In practical terms- unless you’re a major digital packrat that must take an entire library of books with you, thousands of songs, and a few dozen movies as well- even 16GB of storage is PLENTY for most people.

 

#2. The Barnes and Nobel Nook HD Tablet ($129)

(Not to be confused with the original Nook Tablet or Nook Color) The Nook is an excellent choice and in several ways, better than the Nexus 7.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, the Nook HD's price has dropped from $199 to $129, a full $100 less than the current Nexus 7. Although overall the updated Nexus 7 is a much better tablet than the Nook HD, the price difference makes the Nook an absolute steal. Even so, I recommend the Nook HD+ (B&N's 9" tablet) over everything else, as it's price has currently dropped to $149, making it in my opinion the best tablet deal currently going among the major manufacturers. This is because with the Nook HD+, you get a larger near-iPad experience, for one of the cheapest prices around. In fact, I strongly suspect the Nook HD+ will not be available after the current stock has sold out.

Pros:

1. In trying hard to compete with Amazon and stake their claim in the digital realm, B&N have worked hard in making the Nook an excellent challenger to Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets.  In my opinion, the Nook surpasses the Kindle both in hardware stats,  and with the recent addition of Google’s Play Store, in software as well.  Play Store access on this device is huge: it means the Nook also has access to Amazon’s Kindle software, and Amazon’s app store, as well as the full catalog of Google apps. 

As with the Nexus, full native Play Store access means this device isn’t limited to a single company’s eco-system, but has access to all of them. Simply put- if you buy a digital book through Amazon, you’ll want to be able to read it on your Nook, and since you can install the Kindle software, you can. If you have an Android phone and buy a game, you’ll want that same game on your Nook. Since it has play store access, you can. If you already own a library of books/magazines/comic books in a format like .pdf, epub, cbr/cbz, html etc… then you can install reader software from the Play store and access all of this. Your digital video and music files you can play using any software you choose from the Play store, making this device a true tablet experience, not just an eReader.

2. The 1440x 900 (243ppi) screen resolution is a higher resolution than the Nexus 7’s 1280 x 800 screen, meaning that whatever you’re doing, from reading books to watching movies, the image quality is sharper and better.  The superior screen, excellent battery life and very good build quality firmly places it in the running with the Nexus 7. Choice of black or white model.

3. The micro SD card slot. This could qualify the Nook as a better option than the Nexus depending on your usage needs. Since it has a card slot, you’re not limited to the 16GB of internal storage-you can add infinite storage by merely swapping out micro SD cards which are relatively cheap. Add say a 32GB SD card and you’ve got room for thousands of books, mp3 music files, and movies.  If you’re the type that wants a digital content device for just a few files now and then, this may not matter. If having an entire library of books/music/videos available whenever/wherever is important to you then the microSD storage should make this your choice.

 

Cons:

1. Ever since the addition of the Play Store, the Nook’s limited built in software is no longer a con. But I’m not crazy about the Nook’s proprietary charging cable, but this is a minor con. 

2. No cameras, what-so-ever. If video-chat is important to you in a mobile device, then don’t buy a Nook.

3. YOU NEED WIFI access and an active B&N user account (free to set up) to use the Nook HD. I’ll just warn you right now: if you don’t have a WIFI network and you get the Nook HD home unopened in the box, you’re going to be frustrated. You can’t use the Nook until you have a B&N user account that you log into on the Nook, which requires WIFI access. So buy one at a B&N store and make certain you set it up in the store using their WIFI network.

(Then after you get it home, stop being such a dinosaur and go get a cheap $35 wireless router and attach it to your cable or DSL modem! Any of these devices benefits immensely from a home WIFI network (for ease of downloading content from online bookstores, Play store access, web and entertainment, etc.) which virtually everyone should have in this day and age.)

 

#3. The Apple iPad Mini ($349)

It’s hard to beat Apple for quality. Just as the iPod is the ‘premium’ device for music, the iPad is in many ways the premium tablet device.

 

Pros:

1. The Mini is 35% larger than it’s 7” Android counterparts at 7.9”.  Its aspect ratio is also slightly squarer than the Androids. 

2. Software. Apple has the largest library of home grown and third party applications, and arguably the highest quality. Out of the box, you’ll get everything you need for reading books, watching movies, listening to music, etc. With Apple’s built in App Store, you can download an endless variety of games, applications, and digital content. All of Amazon and B&N’s book and magazine content is available. Apple’s own iOS operating system is fast and fluid and in many ways more refined than Android. (Though less customizable).

3. It features both forward and rear-facing cameras. It does both video-chat and takes decent photos with the rear-facing camera. (Although, let’s face it- taking photos with a tablet is annoying and unwieldy in most cases.)

4. It’s from Apple, so the build quality is impeccable.  Choice of black or white model, and cellular-data enabled models for take-anywhere online connectivity.

 

Cons:

1. Price. iPad mini is $150 more expensive than its Android counter-parts. There’s lots to love about Apple’s hardware and software, but at the end of the day if you just want to see text/images on a screen and read books, the iPad mini won’t deliver that experience any better for the extra money. 

2. Screen resolution is 1024 x 768: kind of stingy compared to the higher resolutions of both the Nexus and Nook, and especially given the Mini’s larger screen. Keep it in perspective though: reading is still a razor-sharp enjoyable experience on the Mini, and images appear crisp and color-accurate. 

3. Storage. Apple doesn’t do external storage via micro SD card at all, so you’re limited to 16GB (on the base model) of storage. Add approx. $100 each time as you double this capacity with the 32GB and 64GB models. Considering a 64GB micro SD card can be had for $50, paying $529 for the 64GB iPad mini is questionable cost-effectiveness. 


 

That’s my 7” roundup.  There are other choices, but the above are my top 3. I don’t really recommend the Kindle Fire HD currently, because of its lack of micro SD card and Play Store support for full benefit of the Android operating system. It will remain to be seen if B&N’s switch to Play Store access prompts Amazon to respond by opening up the Kindle as well.  Even though the Amazon app store is a very robust ‘ecosystem’ on its own, it just doesn’t compare as the only option, vs. all options on the other Android devices.  The Kindle Fire HD’s screen resolution is the same as the Nexus 7’s, but less than the Nook HD. 

Coming soon: My 10" tablet roundup.

I work with Apple's Final Cut Pro virtually every day. It only runs on Mac OSX, so to take things mobile, my options were pretty much an Apple MacBook or be chained to a desktop. Since I started doing a purely from-home job, being chained all day every day to my desktop seemed needlessly dreary. I'd much rather be out working on cafes and coffee shops along with many of LA's other freelancers.

So I needed to get a laptop for my work- but (as usual) I bristle at the idea of paying $1,700+ for a 15" MacBook.

I've always been a huge fan of desktop Hackintoshes. ( I recently built a $1600 IvyBridge Hack for a friend; it's overclocked to 4.5Ghz and benches as fast as the 12 core Mac Pro desktops going for $4,000.)  But I've never been a big fan of laptop Hackintoshes. With a desktop build, one can control the exact hardware spec, and cherry pick parts that are known to be fully OSX compatible. With a laptop PC, you're mostly stuck with the onboard components.

But every now and then, the stars align just right, and there's a certain model of laptop PC that has everything needed to run OSX perfectly. Currently, that's the HP ProBook 4530s.

I picked one up for $360 off craigslist (if anyone can show me a 15" MacBook, that works, with an i3 or better processor for that price, I'll not only buy it, I'll eat it with a side of blank DVDs.) It took me about 20 minutes to have it up and running OSX Lion (and later Mountain Lion) perfectly.

Friends that I've shown the hacked ProBook too have asked me about it, so I thought to best way to go was to produce this overview video showcasing the HP ProBook 4530s and the process of installing OSX on it. So give it a glance. It's not a full guide, but I outline in the video where to go on the web for all the information you'll need to hack one of these.

'Hacking' things may sound like black arts to those on the straight and narrow technology path, but it's often really simple, and in this case, very simple. Most devices sold as exclusives these days really aren't- they're all different versions of the same hardware. Apple desktop computers are fundamentally the same machines as PC desktops. So 'hacking' is merely casting aside the artificial roadblocks put in place by Apple and other companies pretending to be exclusive, and making the same hardware from a different brand 'become' exactly the same thing.

Like I said before, the only reason this process doesn't usually apply to laptops, is that PC makers often use parts that have no equivalent in the Mac world- particularly discrete graphic chips. (PC graphics are generally far ahead of Apple). The onboard Intel HD 3000 graphics in this laptop are the same as found in the current crop of MacBooks, and everything else lines up as well, so it's off to the races. 

Ultimate i5 Hackintosh

I regularly build PCs and most aren't worth bothering to post about. Most people that ask me to build computers for them usually want a decent average PC that's within a budget, but better bang for the buck than a PC from one of the big box makers. But recently I've built a series of noteworthy Hackintoshes for clients using the latest iron from the OSx86 world. I'm happy to report that this parts list makes for one heck of a great PC that runs the latest version of Apple's OSX operating system flawlessly. 

If you need MacPro level performance, but don't want the MacPro pricetag (currently as of May, 2012 the base model quad core MacPro starts at $2500) this is my list of parts to get nearly the same performance for roughly 1/3 the price.

 

1. Motherboard:  GIGABYTE GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3  $149

 

2. CPU:  Intel Core i5-2400 Sandy Bridge 3.1GHz   $189 (Really you can use any LGA 1155 CPU up to an i7, just stick with 2nd generation for now)

3. GPU: ATI Radeon 5770 1GB GDDR5  $92 (Again, you can use any OSX-compatible GPU. This card works natively with no hacking or fiddling needed)

4. RAM: 8GB DDR3 Patriot 1600Mhz SDRAM  (x2) $140

Use any case, drives, power supply you choose, but for convenience here are my current build picks:

5. PSU: Corsair 500W 80Plus  $40 after rebate

6. Hard drive:  Seagate 500GB $90 (Hard drives are still very expensive, but stick with 6Gb/s SATA in sizes as cost-effective as you can find) (x2 if you want to dual boot Windows 7)

7. Optical drive: Samsung 22x SATA DVD-R  $17

8. Case: NZXT Source 210 White $40 (any ATX case will do of course, but these NZXT cases look nice and are great quality for little money

9. 8GB Patriot USB Flash drive $8 (You will need as a boot device to set up OSX)

 

All told, expect to spend roughly $800 on this build. The performance you'll get will rival the $2500 MacPro, and will best most any stock PC from the likes of Dell, Sony or other box-stencilers. (I call them that because name-brand PCs are just a collection of off the shelf parts the same as you can do for yourself, with a brand-name stenciled onto the case to give the illusion of a specific product.)

 

Build, and install OSX Lion 10.7.3 (current version as of 5/2012) using Kakewalk 4.1.  Note: I do not recommend attempting to install Snow Leopard on this hardware.

Important: Proper function requires AHCI be turned on in BIOS prior to installing OS. Also, if using a CPU with onboard Intel 2000 (not 3000) graphics, the onboard VGA setting in BIOS must be set to: [Enable if No Ext PEG] and an OSX compatible graphic card must be used in the PCIe x16 slot. 

In a nutshell: Restore an image of OSX Lion ($30 from the OSX App store) to an 8GB or larger USB flash drive, and install using Kakewalk, selecting the Z68X-UD3H as the board type. This process is nearly as easy as installing OSX on a real Mac, you'll just need access to a Mac to create the initial USB boot drive with Lion 10.7.3.

Install Windows to a separate hard drive as normal- unplug the installed OSX drive from power while installing Windows to avoid bootloader issues. When Windows and drivers are installed, replug the OSX drive to power and the Chameleon bootloader can boot both OSX and Windows from its selector menu.

The new go-to board for Hackintosh. 

The Sandybridge i5 2400. I used the non-K version to stay within a budget for my clients, but I recommend the K versions (either i5 or i7) and a beefy third party CPU cooler for over-clocking. Of if going the opposite direction, use a dirt cheap i3 for even more of a budget build. The $189 2400 sits neatly right in the middle of these options.

The black version of the NZXT case I recommend in the build list.

Above, a finished i5 Hackintosh in black. Below, a similar machine in the same case in white. (After using this case, I was able to do much better cable management in the white build).

UPDATE 7/29/2014: Sometimes when discussing the black art of Hackintoshing, I get things like "Yeah, well that's great, but what's the life expectancy of these things anyway?"

Well, I built myself a workhorse Hackintosh (replacing the one I'd had before it in use since 2008) right after I posted this article in May, 2012, using an i7 2600K (Overclocked to 3.8Ghz) 16GB of RAM, a Radeon HD6870 graphics card and the same GIGABYTE GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 motherboard as the above client builds.

Well, here it is July 2014 and this machine is still going strong, as it has every day for the past two years. (Im typing this update on it.) It's currently running the latest OSX (Mavericks, 10.9.4), so I've seen it through Lion, every point update of Mountain Lion and now right up to the latest Mavericks. 

Recently I had a massive build-off, cranking out 8 systems for a client over the course of a single weekend. (And the day before, I had built another 2). Luckily I enjoy building PC's greatly, otherwise it would have been a real chore!

8 Unlocked i5 2500K SandyBridge processors.

I build quite a few 'normal' desktop PCs for people, but the challenge of these 8 systems is that they needed to be small, lightweight (less than 7 lbs each) yet very powerful and fairly quiet. These are usually 4 things of which you can pick only 2.

I turned to the Mini ITX form factor. This, paired with the new Intel Sandybridge CPU fit the bill perfectly. Thankfully, ASRock makes a Mini ITX SandyBridge board that was exactly what I needed, the H67M-ITX. Despite it's small size, it packs a hell of a punch.

The excellent ASRock H67M-ITX. Note the size compared to a CD-ROM disc.

The hardest item to find, was the Mini ITX form factor cases. Luckily, I managed to find the perfect cases available locally, and each with a decent 400W PSU to power the systems. Assembled, these systems are no bigger than a shoebox.

The Mini ITX case makes for a PC that's smaller than a shoebox.

Eight finished systems ready to delivery to the client.

Replacement P67 Extreme

The swap is finally done. Newegg sent me the replacement P67 motherboard the other day. Above, the new 'B3' revision of the P67 Extreme 4 board is at left; it's seemingly identical to the 'old' board at right, but with the new flaw-corrected chipset. B3 versions of all the flawed Sandybridge boards should now be available. My hat is off to Intel for rolling out the updated hardware in record time- even though it's costing them boatloads of cash.

I swapped the boards out in the server -took me about half an hour. The UEFI was also updated for the B3 revision.  Windows 7 x64 hiccuped at first, failing to recognize all the revised chipset, but an driver update set things straight and in no time the machine was back to work crunching video files. 

Total Recall: Sandy Bridge P67

Literally moments after I pressed the 'order' button for the parts for a client-build Sandy Bridge (P67) system, Intel announced a recall of the entire Sandy Bridge platform due to a glitch in the chipset's 3GB SATA controller.

I first noticed something was up when rIght after I placed my order I saw that the i7 2600 processor, and the ASRock P67 Extreme4 motherboard had vanished from availability at all online retailers. That's when I saw news about the recall.

But my order went through, and two days later I had my client's -now exceedingly rare- hardware. 

The unlocked 2600K disappeared just seconds before I could snag one; I had one in my newegg shopping cart, but it was deactivated before I hit the 'order' button. I figured it had sold out due to high demand. I did manage to grab a locked 2600 just before it too was gone, and hit 'order' just in the nick of time. 

The latest Intel iron, plus 8GB of Intel series 6 ready DDR3 RAM and a decent nVidia GTX 460 will make for a very nice system- recall bugs and all!

The ASRock P67 Extreme4; just a beautiful motherboard with some really nice features like an on-board status readout, THX audio hardware, and a rear-panel UEFI (no more BIOS!) reset.

The LGA 1155 CPU socket.

With the i7 2600 in place. No over-clocking this guy since it's the unlocked non-K version, so it stays at 3.4Ghz. The unlocked K version can be over-clocked as high as 5.2 Ghz.

The label on the SATA ports struck me as interesting, especially in light of the recall glitch. The glitch only affects the P67 chipset (code-named Cougar Point) 3GB SATA ports (in blue), degrading performance of devices plugged into them over time. The white 6GB SATA ports are unaffected. Coincidence that the sticker over the ports recommends favoring the white 6GB ports- which just so happens to be the work-around for the recall glitch. (There's no problem with the i7 'Sandy Bridge' CPU)

The case for this build is awesome- a very solidly built rack-mount server case. 

Installing the GTX 460 video card.

 

The finished, assembled system, ready to boot.

 

Finally! Gone is the hopelessly outdated BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). Enter the modern replacement: the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface).  

Whenever you turn on your PC, that ugly white text you probably see before Windows boots is part of the old BIOS- a relic leftover from the earliest days of the Personal Computer. With this new generation of motherboards, when you turn on your PC you'll be greeted by a Graphical User Interface from startup to shut down. Should you need to enter the setup utility, it looks like this. You can even use a mouse!

The screen shots of the UEFI were taken from within the interface by pressing F13, and are automatically saved to any attached USB flash drive. Personally, I welcome this long-overdue progress on the PC. Apple has used  EFI in place of BIOS for years (albeit with no user-encouraged setup utility), but the PC has lagged behind in this respect. ASRock's UEFI interface was a joy to use for such tasks as dialing in the correct DRAM Frequency and voltage (above auto detected incorrectly as 1333 rather than 1600) and setting up the correct SATA modes.

 

Meanwhile, all should end well with the recall; my client can enjoy one of the few Sandy Bridge systems around- the SATA glitch problem won't affect this setup. Replacement motherboards minus the 3GB SATA bug should be available next month, so I'll simply have to reinstall the upgraded board when the time comes, and send back the defective board.

Cheap Tablet Stand

I wanted an economical way to make my Tablet PC into a workstation as well. There are all sorts of ready-made stands for Tablet PCs and iPads, but during a quick peek in Office Depot, I found this item:

Office Depot Book and Copy Holder

Office Depot Book and Copy Holder.

It's not really made for tablets, but it turns out to work perfectly.

As for a keyboard, HP makes the most perfect Mini wireless keyboard, but of course you can use any keyboard you're comfortable with.


HP Wireless Mini Keyboard

This keyboard, though small, is as comfortable to type on as most any laptop. Also, mouse control and buttons are built in. (The right button is both an ingenius mouse control, as well as the right click button.) This makes an excellent HTPC keyboard as well.

 

In action:

Tablet PC Fever

My buddy Mike found an awesome deal on ebay for a Motion Computing LE1600 Tablet PC, showed it to me, and so I picked one up dirt cheap. Such a fantastic drawing tool! It features a Wacom pen digitizer, making it ideal for artists.

I'm writing this post on it now while kicked back in bed.

Using Art Rage Studio 3.0

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