28th July 2014 

 
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Vista Take Two
Oldie but Goodie - Cambridge Soundworks MegaWorks THX
Most Expensive eeeBox ever :P
4100 Lumens Flashlight can set paper on fire
Financial Customers struck by Vishing attempts
Update on Vista Stuttering
Portable Headphone Amp on budget

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 Saturday January 17, 2009

Vista Take Two
20:08 PM - bktoh
I have been using Vista, pretty much from the day it was launched since it was shipped with my hp Tablet notebook. Initial impressions were not good. It was slow, sluggish and felt even less user-friendly than XP. Wireless LAN connections were erratic, often indicating I only had "Local Access" when my router and other PCs were getting internet access with no issues.

So for my PCs, it has always been XP. All the apps I needed to run just seemed more stable on XP.

In fact, Services for UNIX (a free download from MS) wouldn't run on Vista unless you got Ultimate or the Business (which bundled a subset of SFU). I normally use SFU to configure my drives as an NFS Server for media streaming duties. I found that streaming from my PC would allow a higher bitrate to playback more smoothly than when I use a NAS based NFS. TVIX bundles a dedicated NFS-type utility but it doesn't work for NMT media so I was stuck with SFU.

I was content to let Vista run on the tablet since touchscreen support was natively built in.

But with my main PC now ready for daily duties, I was able to retire my hp notebook for other projects and experiment. My first attempt was to do a clean boot and install Windows 7 Beta.

I have to say that initial impressions were pretty good. The response and speed was what Vista should have been from Day One. But I found that most of my friends who hopped on to Vista post SP1 didn't find Windows 7 that big a jump. This got me piqued.

So I wiped out the Windows 7 Beta install and reinstalled Vista with SP1. Initially had to let Windows Update do its job and get the system completely up to date with patches and drivers. All the hp drivers got downloaded automatically, so I didn't need to go back to hp's website except for the fingerprint reader.

But the thing that amazed me was how much faster and responsive SP1 was, and was comparable to the Windows 7 Beta install.

I still encountered the WLAN internet access drop off, but thankfully Windows Vista is a lot more established now and I can easily google for solutions online. The WLAN "internet access" drop off issue turned out to be due to IPv6. Disabling the IPv6 check solved the problem. Now the WLAN access is rock solid.

I won't say Vista is completely bug-free yet. My Broadcom WLAN completely disappeared from the list of System Devices. My google search shows I am not alone! Thankfully, I already use an ExpressCard Belkin Wireless-N for WLAN duties these days because I get better coverage from my Wireless-N router.

But in terms of application support, stability and responsiveness, I have to say Vista is now ready for prime time. Downloading my favourite freeware apps (Alcohol 52%, AVAST antivirus etc), all worked perfectly, even with an x64 OS install!

Oldie but Goodie - Cambridge Soundworks MegaWorks THX
01:23 AM - bktoh
With my spanking new PC, I finally got enough storage space to transfer my iTunes collection (all lossless encoding) from my Vista hp tabletPC.

But storage is only one side of the equation. I also needed something to play the audio through.

My old Inspire 6.1 setup had already stopped working years ago. It was still hooked up to this monstrous Surround Station stand. Remember this?


This pic is from Wilfred's review



But mine was a ghastly blue/yellow combination. I didn't have any choice because it was the only color in stock at that time.

During upgrade, I took the opportunity to clear out the Surround Station, the dead Inspire speakers. In the interests of having just some decent audio, I hooked up a pair of Yuin PK1 buds and the Creative X-Fi X-Mod USB DAC.

Since it's the weekend today, I decided to move the old Megaworks THX speaker system to the PC/study room. This 5.1 system spent a few years in my game den/room but because I often played my games in the middle of the night, it was off most of the time, and I played with the games with a headphone/headset combo.



I didn't need or want a 5.1 system for this PC (even though it has a combo HD-DVD and BluRay drive). Just for music. So I only moved the sub, the remote and 2 speakers out.

It's not the last word in high fidelity. After listening to my father-in-law's Anthony Gallo Reference 3.1 system, it's going to be tough to find anything in my budget that is even comparable. But the Megaworks is still a competent setup for a PC. I actually find this speaker, that I believe is over 5 years old, actually sounds better than most of the PC speakers that I audition in Challenger and Sim Lim Square.

Even at this late hour, with moderate listening levels, the small speakers and the sub combo deliver just enough extension and presence in the low frequencies while the trebles come across clearly and fills the room. Midrange is a bit lacking but that's understandable compromise.

Good job, Creative!

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 Saturday January 10, 2009

Most Expensive eeeBox ever :P
03:31 AM - bktoh
WOW. I think I have just un-earthed some archaelogical site with this post.

But I guess it is fitting to use this place as my sounding board for my latest PC project. As most readers (if there are still any left) here know, I haven't been dabbling much into the world of PCs for a while now.

I found the regular upgrade cycles to keep my PC fast enough to run the latest games to take too much investment, when a console would be able to give 80-90% of the best PC graphics without all the issues of drivers, heat and stability that most PC enthusiasts deal with routinely. Just witness the problems of GTA4 on the PC

To be honest, I haven't really built a new PC in almost 3 years now.

I have, admittedly, refreshed a few systems here and there. I cobbled together a Socket 939 based Athlon64 X2 4800+ system based on spare parts I had in the office in my last job. I also redeployed my HTPC to be a 24 hour server after what I saw could be done with AMD Live! suite of programs.

I left the PC on all day. I could log on remotely from the office to use IM (when IM was either disabled on the office network or logged for monitoring). Could also monitor downloads, retrieve files from my home to be used in the office, etc. When I was travelling overseas, I was also able to use Orb to stream my TV shows and music to my notebook in my hotel room.

But the main issue with running PCs 24/7 is that they eventually die. It's not an IF but WHEN. And WHEN they do, it's painful. I guess PC based HDD just aren't reliable for 24x7 operation for long periods of time. And despite all my best efforts, there'll still be files I haven't yet put on the NAS.

This wasn't the first time the HDD died on me for this HTPC/server. It happened about a year ago, when the SATA HDD konked out on me. I went off and bought a spanking new 1TB drive but as it turned out, the motherboard's SATA controller couldn't support this disk size. Then I tried to upgrade the firmware, but the motherboard manufacturer of that tiny HTPC motherboard had gone out of business. Luckily I was able to salvage a IDE HDD of comparable size from a disused USB HDD enclosure. It was this IDE HDD that finally crashed on me a couple of days ago.

I had in mind a simple solution. Buy an Asus eeeBox. After all, I already had the keyboard, mouse and display that was salvageable.

The main concern with the eeeBox was that the internal HDD was pretty small.

When I went to the shops, I was surprised that the main dealers of the eeePC no longer stocked the eeeBox. I finally managed to track some units down at Fuwell, my usual haunt of choice in the past. I was all ready to buy the eeeBox when I spotted a Lenovo box just next to it. So I asked to have a look at the Lenovo box instead. The Lenovo box, unlike the Asus one, had a spec list. I was surprised to see that the Lenovo box only stated it had a 10/100Mbit connection. This really surprised me. I tried to verify if the Asus eeeBox had a Gbit connection cos I recalled it did have. But I was also stumped as to why Intel would offer a standard Atom chipset with two configurations for Gbit and Fast Ethernet. In the end, I was unable to get a confirmation on the Asus eeeBox's LAN connection so I started looking at the new stuff that had just been brought in.

Enter - AMD's Phenom II 940 Black Edition.

This was AMD's 45nm shrink of the old 65nm Phenom processor. But along with the new process, AMD threw in another 4MB of L3 cache. The 45nm provided a cooler processor with the ability to clock higher speeds.

I know most of the benchmarks show the new Intel i7 processors to be faster, but the i7 processors cost a lot more to start with, before you even start adding the cost of premium DDR3 memory and the pricier motherboards. In Singapore, the premium for i7 is even higher than that in the US.

In any case, I have often found that many times, a benchmark or application developed with Intel compilers, when run on non-Intel processors would often disable many of the optimizations that would work on other x86 processors. IMHO such benchmarks don't really represent the actual performance capable on each processor architecture.

For more of this, check out
http://arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/atom-nano-review.ars/6

In any case, this finally gave me the chance to upgrade to a true quad core system. I bought the Black Edition running at 3GHz along with 4GB of OCZ Reaper DDR2-800MHz (CAS4 rated), a Gigabyte 790GX motherboard, 2x500GB Green Power HDD, a cheap CoolerMaster case along with a 500W PSU with 80+% efficiency.

By this time, I was already WAAAAYYYYY WAAAAAYYYY over budget (remember the eeeBox)

On a whim, decided to add an LG BluRay/HD DVD reader with DVD-writing capability into the mix. Then I figured... just in case I ever want to add some decent graphics cards in there, upgraded the PSU to a MODXSTREAM-PRO 700W.

Got back home, and after getting everything sorted, I configured the 2 HDD as a RAID1 configuration and started Windows XP installation and hit my first snag. I needed
- AMD's RAID drivers
- floppy drive
- floppy disk
Now, the first two are fairly easy to fix. I have a Sony USB floppy drive and I can easily unzip the RAID drivers there. Unfortunately, none of the floppy disks I have were readable!

Damn. The only way I could install Windows was to configure the SATA drives as IDE. But I wouldn't be able to use them in RAID 1 configuration which would eventually lead me back to this path again in the future!

So today, out at lunch, I was contemplating my options.

I started out looking for new floppy disks to buy. But floppys have gone the way of the dodo. My first port of call was Challenger. Nada.

As it turned out, I walked past Memory World and spotted their Solid State Disks. I figured Solid State Disks should be more reliable than their magnetic platter cousins. So I could install the OS first on the SSD, then configure the 2 HDD using the chipset RAID and install the right drivers.

And so, it finally came to fruition Now typing this on my spanking new PC. One thing I can't quite get over is how QUIET this new PC is. My old HTPC was a 3.2GHz Pentium 4, and even with the esoteric cool and quiet copper/silver heatsink fans I bought, it was a HUGE racket. This new QUAD CORE processor runs even quieter than my Dell desktop in the office!

I did have to flash the firmware BIOS to the latest one from Gigabyte. Otherwise, the CPU name was not displayed during POST, and worse, I had intermittent problems booting up. The manual said the beeps indicated a power issue. I suspect it could be because the CPU wasn't getting enough juice to run cos it was still an unknown type to the motherboard with the old BIOS. Thankfully, Gigabyte's BIOS is pretty good. It even includes a built in flash utility that can be triggered during POST. All I needed was to load the files on a USB thumb drive.

In any case, am well pleased with this setup. Now all I need is a 4870X2 card and an Asus HDMI 1.3 audio soundcard, and I am all set

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 Wednesday January 30, 2008

4100 Lumens Flashlight can set paper on fire
09:21 AM - kan
Recently I was into flashlights, especially after acquiring the Fenix L2D 180 lumens model. The Fenix runs on the Cree 7090 XR-E LED and is powered by two AA-sized batteries. This little puppy just puts my past flashlights in shame, and I really regretted not getting it earlier. Like the saying goes, you only need one real's man flashlight and the Fenix could possibly be just the one I need.

I4U News has an article on a new 4100 lumens flashlight which is so bright that it can convert light energy into heat energy, thereby setting paper on fire!

It is capable of melting plastic, lighting paper on fire within seconds, and if you like, fry an egg or a marshmallow on a stick. See a video below that shows how the flashlight burns up a pile of paper.

At 4100 lumens, The Torch is 100 lumens more powerful than The Polarion Helios, the former most powerful flashlight. Apparently Wicked Lasers has The Torch currently in review at the Guinness Book of World Records.

Measurements of the torch are 57mm x 230mm. The battery lasts for 15min. The 4100 lumens can be adjusted via a high efficiency reflector. The casing is made from aerospace grade aluminum.



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 Monday January 21, 2008

Financial Customers struck by Vishing attempts
09:55 AM - kan
In an article from BankInfoSecurity, a Philadelphia bank and two Washington State credit unions revealed that their customers had been solicited in new, telephone-based phishing attacks aimed at stealing personal account information. These fraud attempts are examples of a new trend known as "vishing" – a combination of "voice" and "phishing", which refers to the use of Voice over IP to launch attempts to separate unsuspecting customers from their personal information. The callers use social engineering techniques to prey upon consumers’ trust of telephone-based alerts from institutions. And because they are computer-based, the vishing attempts are difficult for legal authorities to monitor or trace.

“As banks tighten up security on the Internet channel, the criminals are increasingly using the phone channel," says Avivah Litan, Gartner distinguished analyst. Vishing is just one of an array of clever and devious social engineering techniques the crooks are using to steal customer credentials and account information.

Information security analyst Nick Holland at the Aite Group predicts a similar direction for this fraud. “It [vishing] certainly looks to be the next attack vector. Customers have gotten to a point where they’re savvy enough (but not entirely so) to avoid the email phishing attempts,” he says.

Given the “spam-like” reach of phishing, it doesn’t take many positive hits on an email to make a profit for the phisher, Holland adds.

For the criminal, vishing is appealing. The customer is diverted to a fake call center, complete with a spoofed caller ID name appearing on the telephone's screen. “As a bank customer, you would not expect a phone call that appears to be from your bank to be fraudulent,” Holland says. “The key here is it appears to be legitimate.”

As institutions increasingly move into mobile banking and mobile payments, the vishing trend also brings into question the methods used to authenticate users over the phone.

Financial institutions are not the only targets of vishing. Gartner’s Litan sees vishing spreading out to other businesses. “The crooks will use all types of social engineering techniques leveraging brands such as eBay, PayPal, wireless telecommunications providers, charitable organizations, and medical service providers,” Litan says. “They will also make up brands, as they do with straight phishing, pretending to be sweepstakes contests, lottery games, and the like.”

In the end, however, the thieves are trying to get consumers’ money, so regardless of the technique used to steal credentials or account information, the bank or credit union account is the ultimate target.

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 Tuesday August 07, 2007

Update on Vista Stuttering
23:10 PM - bktoh
I am pretty sure the stuttering I am encountering with the Creative XMod and my HP TabletPC/notebook is due to Vista and not the AMD processor.

I just used my wife's HP notebook which is also a Turion64X2 based model, but it runs Win XP Pro instead of Vista like my TabletPC. Not a single stutter.

Damn Vista!!!

In other news, I got the Motorola battery pack with the mini USB jack and tested it with the XMod, and it works brilliantly. So for about $220 bucks (Creative XMod and the Motorola battery pack), you get a pretty decent earphone/in-ear-monitor amplifier for the iPod.

You do need to get the Mylar dock with lineout connector and a short interconnect cable to complete the picture but you'd need that anyway with any pocket amp.

Only downside is that the Motorola battery pack plugs directly to the XMod. Ideally, you need a short mini USB (female) to mini USB (male) cable but I haven't found it yet.


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 Monday August 06, 2007

Portable Headphone Amp on budget
23:20 PM - bktoh
I think I may have found a pretty affordable headphone amp solution tho audiophiles may actually scoff at this approach

In my quest to get some decent audio from my notebook, I bought this little device today...



It seems to be a decent and affordable headphone amp and USB DAC with some Creative XFi processing built in.

OK, so it didn't work with one of my notebooks (still encounter slight stuttering with the HP) but seems perfect with the Dell. This could be one of 2 things (or both):

a. HP is running Vista Home Premium, Dell is running XP Pro
b. HP is AMD, Dell is Intel

This may not be a CPU issue per se. I notice that USB ports on some AMD chipsets tend to have less "power" than those powered by Intel chipsets, so am going to find a "dual headed" USB cable for the HP tomorrow. See if that fixes the stuttering issue.

Of course this is a Creative box and some "audiophile" guys may have issues with it. But the truth is that it isn't a bad USB DAC converter.

First impressions... the XFi Crystalizer actually makes the sound more "full" but to be honest, it just seems to make the music louder. I am getting pretty much the same thing if I turn the Crystalizer off and dial the volume knob a bit more. Bass is a tad more pronounced, but that's it. I am still not convinced with the CMSS3D mode, though. Sounds like bad echo effects.

But the XMod is not really a portable solution. It needs to be powered by a USB port from a PC.

In any case, my PocketPC phones all ship with a charger with a mini USB tip and I found out I could just as easily power up the XMod without a PC by using that charger. Hooked up my iPod Nano to it and surprise! It works surprisingly well with the Nano driving my UE 5.pros. The XMod was able to drive the Alessandro MS Pros as well, but the power output meant it was only able to do it at moderate levels.

Which brings me to this:


This device actually is a pretty large capacity battery and has a USB jack (also comes with a USB cable). And this gives the XMod the power it needs to be portable!

May go to SLS or Funan tomorrow to pick one of these Motorola power packs.

It's a pretty affordable solution compared to some of the more esoteric headphone amps I have been testing.


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