Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

Last year I decided to ditch the desktop PC and move to a laptop for day-to-day use.  I’d been using USB hard drives to supplement the 1Tb storage but this meant my laptop was generally tied to the desk.

Anyway I decided (having upgraded to Gigabit Lan) that  Network Attached Storage was the way forward.

After much deliberation I went for Western Digital’s offering, encouraged mainly by the “Cloud Storage”

This is probably the easiest bit of hardware I’ve installed, plug in, install the software then access the drive through a web page to setup sharing and security.

Once setup, you can go to and map the cloud storage on your PC. (There’s also apps for android and iOS to access the drive from your tablet)

Make sure you only use these links when away from your home network though (When at home find the drive through the “network” section of Windows Explorer). Using the cloud service internally will hammer your bandwidth as your data does a lap of the Internet each time you read or write.

To top it off the drive comes with a media server built in, so I can stream all my music and videos through my blu-ray player.

So far I’ve had only one technical hitch. My laptop crashed and when it came back up Windows kept bringing up a password box and telling me I didn’t have permissions to access the directory.

I found loads of people asking the same question on the Internet, but very few answers. Turns out that the way to fix it is to go to Credential Manager in Control Panel, in here I found a Windows Credential for the device, a quick edit to put in the user name and password I set up on the device and everything started working again. 😀

Apart from that, the drive looks good and almost silent (just the occasional HD whir) and is well worth the higher cost over USB storage. The 3Tb option should be enough for most users, but just to be on the safe side I’ve bought another. (Oh and put the drives out of the USB caddies into my old PC to create a Linux server with 4Tb of space… but that’s another story)

The time had come to retire my old PC, since I predominantly use external storage the time had come to swap the bulky old box for a laptop.

Big selling point for me has always been memory, so the 6Gb stood out amongst the others in this price range which tended to have only 4Gb. Add a 1Tb hard drive, and I have plenty of local storage for those times when I go roaming.

The core i3 processor happily handles anything I throw at it, processing a DVD to XviD on my media server in about 1/3 the time it would take to watch.

I made what I thought was a mistake at the time and bought one with Windows 8, but apart from the quirk of the start screen, this has been relatively trouble free.

One problem I did have, was a 3rd party drive partition software, which screwed up my whole operating system. At this point the One-Touch recovery was no use and I ended up having to format and re-install. The obvious problem with this is that the Lenovo doesn’t come with any disks.

Luckily copies of the Windows 8 disks (remember you buy a licence not the software) are available here-> and I was able to start from scratch (the activation and licence codes are built into the bios)

Getting back to the laptop itself, it runs silently and the keyboard is responsive and comfortable. Since I’m using it as a desktop, I’d have preferred the VGA, HDMI and network ports to be at the back and the headphone port gets in the way of my mouse, but these are minor problems and common to many laptops.

The big niggle for me however, is the touchpad. It looks good, just a slightly nobbled surface, but unfortunately that makes it difficult to see and use and I seem to be forever activating swipes to switch screens when trying to navigate the desktop.

Despite this, I’m happy with my new purchase and would recommend it to others.

Google Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7

Got a 16gb version of this new tablet last week. I worked on the principle that Google wouldn’t put their name to it if it wasn’t capable of showing their OS at it’s best.

So far everything seems great, design is sleek and all the apps seem to run effortlessly, even using it at work as well as home, I’m getting a couple of days out of the battery (unless I’m streaming movies on it)

GPS apps pick my location up effortlessly even when inside.

So intuitive even my other half has managed to use it with a minimum of swearing.

Very few apps pre-installed, allowing you to customise it to your own tastes very quickly through Google Play.

Using the Chrome browser at home means all my bookmarks are available on my tablet as well.

You have to connect to wifi first time, but I couldn’t find the mac address to allow it to bypass the filtering on my router until after I’d got it connected. (after that no problems connecting at home or at work)
No storage expansion slot
Only one camera which is on the screen side, so not much use for taking pictures (or reading barcodes which would be handy at work)

Price £159 or £199 depending on the memory
£15 credit on Google play
Ease of use
Battery Life


on November 5, 2011 in Hardware No Comments »

It’s a year since I bought my Kindle, and Amazon have just added an updated version to the family.New Kindle

At first glance, the new cheaper Kindle, looks like a second rate version of the original, take a look at the specs and it’s got less memory, a shorter battery life and it’s lost its keyboard along with the audio capability. Even though the screen is the same size, the proportions of the device make it look smaller.


12 months on and I’m still nowhere near the memory limit of the new Kindle, never mind the old one, and since you can retrieve books from Amazon’s Cloud any time you have wifi access, how many books do you actually need with you at any one time?  

The battery life is still more than enough to keep you going (and of course the USB charging makes it pretty travel friendly) and pretty much the only time I use the keyboard is when I open it up, so is the on-screen version going to be any real ball-ache?

As for the audio, any audiobooks or MP3s would quickly chew up the memory and the only time I tried the auto read function the dulcet tones of Stephen Hawking put me off for life.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the old Kindle was actually horrendously over spec, and to be honest the new one isn’t below par either.

The new format makes it lighter and the pages now turn a little faster, a plus on paper, but you’re hardly going to notice either of those things.

All in all, this has still got to be the most cost effective e-book reader, it does exactly what you need it to, without the bells, whistles and price tag of its competitors.

For those of you who want it, the old 3G version is still available, but I still don’t see the need, if you can get a 3G signal chances are you’re not too far from civilisation and a wifi hotspot.


on November 22, 2010 in Hardware No Comments »
Whilst moving house I realised how much space all my books actually take up. I’d seen the Kindle advertised on Amazon and decided to take the plunge. I started out using the free application for the PC and was happy with the ease of use, so eventually stumped up the cash for the reader.

I’m glad I did, my first worry was eye strain through reading off a screen, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem since the e-ink isn’t backlit (If you want to read under the bedclothes then you’ll need a torch – although you can get a case with one built in). The screen is nice and clear and you can adjust the font size to suit.

The menus are easy to navigate, and if you want to add books that you’ve got from another source it shows up as a flash drive when you connect it to your PC and happily adds these books to your list.

If you keep using the reader on your PC it will also synch across both platforms so that it will pick up where you left the book on the other device.

There are a few negatives, none of which are a deal-breaker.

To start with, the reader itself has all the personality and charm of a pocket calculator, this is easily (though expensively) fixed with the addition of a leather cover  – available in a variety of colours – which give it the look and feel of a proper book.

I’ve also found that the power switch is in a place where it gets caught when I put it in my coat pocket, if it gets snagged for over 15 seconds the unit reboots. It then goes back to the last bookmark which is where you last came out of the book rather than where you are up to.

The other thing is that by default the Kindle places all your books in the main menu. You can group the books into collections (by author for instance) but this is a manual process and rather time consuming especially if you get a fraction of the way towards the 3,500 books the device can hold.

The books also remain in the same directory on the device, far better, IMO, would be to have the device recognise folders as collections and automatically create them. On the flip side, I’d like it to create folders to match the collections I create and move the books there.

Since the books are DRM protected, you can’t actually lend them out or sell them on like you would a paperback copy (although there are ways round this) which makes me believe that the prices Amazon charges (often the same as a physical book) aren’t entirely fair.

Amazon sells two versions of the Kindle, but for most users the cheaper Wi-Fi version will be enough, the only reason I can see to pay the extra £40 for the 3G connectivity is if you don’t have an internet connection at home.

The Kindle has a battery life of 3 to 4 weeks and charges happily from any USB socket, so it is very travel friendly and is certainly going to take up a lot less of your weight allowance on the plane, although I’m not sure I’d be happy leaving it on the sun lounger whilst I took a quick dip in the pool.

Not all books have been converted over to the Kindle yet, but there is a good selection and especially if you’re into classic literature there are a wealth of books available for free, and it’s always worth checking the site for limited time freebies that are used to advertise various authors.

Arround 30,000 tonnes of batteries are bought in the UK every year, but considering that they contain some of the most environmentally damaging chemicals, only 3% are recycled (the rest goes into landfill!)

New rules mean that soon every retailer that sells more than a pack of batteries a day will have to have a recyling point in store, but manufacturers are pessimistic that the target of 25% recycling by 2012 will be reached.

Undoubtably, point of sale and the visibility of the recycling bins will help, but the size of batteries means that they don’t always make it to the bin (how many of us have batteries lying in a draw that we’re not sure work) never mind getting collected together and taken back to the shop.

With alcaline batteries useing 50 times more power to produce than they ever give out, the better option is to switch to rechargeable, but the problem that I’ve always found is that they discharge over time even if you don’t use them, so by the time you need them you face the wait of a few hours before they’re of any use.

A new product by Duracell gets round this, charged in a normal NiMh charger (and costing around the same price as ordinary rechargeable batteries), Duracell ActiveCharge are capable of holding 80% of it’s charge for a year, meaning that those batteries are ready for use whenever you need them.

I’ve been using these since Christmas, and having a couple of sets for my camera means that it’s ready the moment I need it and I don’t have to plan my trips in advance. When the ones in the camera run out through use, I can be sure that the replacements are ready and it also saves recharging half used batteries just to make sure they’ll last.


After a lot of contemplation I bought one of these to bring along with me to Australia. Initially wondering if it was worth the outlay to replace a perfectly servicable camera that I’ve had for years, especially for one that on the face of it is much bulkier than my previous ones.

Well so far on my journey, this camera has worked exceptionally well, shots that would have been a total blur on my old camera (shot from the back of a Harley or on a boat cruise) have with the aid of image stabalisation come out pin sharp, even when using the full 12x optical zoom.

I’ve found it rare to need the flash as the camera copes extremely well in low light and this undoubtedly is part of the reason that the batteries seem to last forever, my first set of alcaline batteries must have lasted well over a month (my old camera used to chew up a set of batteries every day even if you didn’t use it)

You can judge for yourself the quality of the pictures from the ones on this site (just about all of the pictures in my latest galleries are shot with this camera, usually without any editing other than dropping the size for the website). The 10Mp resolution does give you a lot of scope for cropping in to get a better framed shot than the one originally taken leaving plenty of room to enable it to be printed to a decent size.

The camera uses an SDHC card for storage, the one I have 16Mb will allow around 6500 photos at full resolution so there’s no worries about fitting all your holiday snaps on there.

One of the most intreaguing fetures for me is the Panorama function, taking three photos and stitching them together seamlessly. While a little difficult to see where the image lines up (you get the edge of the previous shot overlayed on theviewfinder) when you get it right the results are stunning and a lot easier than trying to fudge everything with Photoshop later.

The other big selling point for me is the burst mode, allowing you to take multiple shots of a fast moving echidna or patch of sea that you’re expecting a dolphin to emerge from in quick succession (if you drop the resolution you can get up to 13 shots per second) enabling you to save the best shot and ditch the rest.

The S1500 has a nice large LCD screen for lining up your shots, but as usual in bright sunlight, this is difficult to see, but with a press of a button you can switch to a traditional style viewfinder but with the advantage that it shows exactly the same image as the LCD screen rather than a view through a seperate lens.

Although a little bulky, a lot of the features on this camera (especially the level of zoom) are things that you’d only usually see on the far bulkier SLRs at a much higher price. No doubt someone who is interested in the “art” of photography will find flaws (although there is scope to alter all the settings that true photographers will bore you with) if you want to take great photos with a minimum of fuss, this camera will be hard to beat.