01st August 2014 

 
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Blackberry Lite Part Deux
Blackberry Lite
Belkin Pre-N good, NetGear RangeMAX not so good
Holy Cow! Opteron processor turns into paper weight
Update on HomePlug Ethernet over Power adaptors
More Gadgets! Gone Stir Crazy
More Adventures with the Dopod 900 aka The Brick

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 Friday July 07, 2006

Blackberry Lite Part Deux
21:44 PM - bktoh
Having used the new Sony Ericsson m600i for the last couple of days as my mobile phone as well as Blackberry client, I feel I shd give an update on how this whole setup works.

First up, the new QWERTY layout. Sure, it isn't as ergonomic as my Dopod but the predictive text is surprisingly good. not only does it give a list of usual word suggestions, it keeps track of yr previous entries so it also tries to predict groups of consecutive words. For instance after I type 'Sony', it automatically prompts 'Ericsson', then 'm600i' because that was the last sequence they appeared in.

To show you how good it is, I am actually writing this rant completely from the Sony Ericsson m600i.

As usual with bleeding edge stuff, there are some niggles with the m600i.

First, the memory leakage. This used to plague my old Sony Ericsson p800. looks like moving to UIQ3 has not solved that problem. A fresh reboot usually yields about 14+MB of usable memory, even though the system ships with 64MB. By the time it drops to 6MB (even with my fastidiousness in deleting my SMSs and emails), the whole system starts to crawl with every small operation.

This slowdown gets even worse when the charger is plugged in.

So, be prepared to give the system a hard reset every other day.

The other niggle I have has to do with the auto-capitalization. Sometimes, it works. Most of the time, like now, it doesn't, so I often have to delete my new sentences to correct an incorrect capitalisation.

Other small niggles include the 'inability' to turn on the volume for timer alarms when in silent mode. My old Sony Ericsson w900i had no such issues. In fact, it would even power itself on from a powered off state if the alarm was set.

Don't get me wrong. I really like this device. It's small and really compact for such a full set of features. I just hope Sony Ericsson can fix these minor niggles that I have.


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 Wednesday July 05, 2006

Blackberry Lite
19:18 PM - bktoh
Remember how a while back I was raving about the Dopod 900? Well, it is a great all-in-one device.

But it is a big device and every so often, I wish I could grab something smaller, especially on the weekends. I am willing to live with some compromises, but getting access to my Blackberry email is not one of those I can really live without.

Recently, the options for Blackberry enabled mobile phones really opened up.

There was the usual suspect: Palm's Treo offered the usual alternative Palm OS based PDA phone to Microsoft's Windows Mobile based Dopod.

The thing is, having moved out of Palm OS for so long now, the new user interface felt strangely alien. Worse, the whole look and feel felt a lot like Blackberry's own handheld devices.

Which then brought me to the two Symbian alternatives:

First up, was the Nokia E61. This had virtually all the goodies of the Dopod, including 3G UMTS, WLAN as well as the usual GPRS/GSM based connectivity.

Like the Treo, the design of the E61 was a close replica of Blackberry's own devices. Like the Treo and Blackberries, I found the small keyboard a tad cramped. Doesn't help that I have such big stubby fingers and thumbs. After using the Dopod for so long, it was a real torture to hunt and peck my way around those keyboards.

Size-wise, these devices were smaller than the Dopod, but never quite small enough to make the switch compelling.

That was until I saw this:


It offered a Symbian OS, a full and usable touchscreen, an ingenious way of getting a full QWERTY keyboard on a phone not much bigger than my old k750i, and best of all, it had Blackberry support built-in.

It seemed like a dream come true.

First up, the compromises.

This is a very basic phone. Which means, no camera and no WLAN like the Dopod. That was OK. Cameras in phones usually lacked optical zoom and most used a very rudimentary CMOS sensor not unlike those used in webcams, which were noisy in low light conditions. And WLAN was such a battery sucker on the Dopod, it was only used for short bursts and for emergencies. If I really needed it, I guess I could always fire up my notebook.

OK, that's the compromise compared to the Dopod.

What about compared to regular Sony Ericsson phone features you might have come to take for granted. First up, the FM radio is gone. This might be a deal breaker for some, but luckily not for me. And the Media Player, while competent, didn't look even half as polished as the one in my old k750i, much less my old W900i Walkman phone. The built-in speaker was also not going to rock the house much.

I managed to dig up my old Walkman Phone handsfree: HPM-70 which bundled a pretty decent set of earphones and the sound quality again was just passable. No where near as bassy and clear as my old k750i and W900i.

But for my purposes, these are frills, and I can easily circumvent them with my iPod Nano and/or Exilim digital camera, if I really needed a more full featured media player or camera.

So how is the Blackberry on the m600?

Surprisingly good actually. While the keypad area is small, the two way action (left/right) buttons had enough surface area not to be too twiddly like with Blackberry, Treo or the Nokia.

If you are used to a normal QWERTY layout, this new design is very intuitive and very easy to familiarize. I still find the Dopod easier to navigate, especially when I am composing longer emails and need to look more "professional", i.e. using the right "capitalization" and correct punctuation marks, but the m600 still gets me there. The predictive text is handy (even if it isn't T9).

But there are a few caveats you need to watch out for.

Currently, you can upgrade the firmware to R3A on the Sony Ericsson official support website. You don't even need to go down to the Service Center. Just DIY on your PC at home.

Whatever you do... DON'T UPGRADE THE FIRMWARE. In fact, before buying the phone, ask the shop to verify that the firmware installed is the original shipping firmware aka R1A.

This is because the Blackberry client only works with the R1A firmware. My colleague found out the hard way. And worse, there is no way to downgrade the firmware.

And getting the Blackberry client was a pretty long nightmare process too. I had expected the client to be bundled with the phone since all the press releases for the m600 indicated it had Blackberry support. Alas, it was not to be. My friend and I got ding donged from Sony Ericsson's call center to their Service Center trying to find the elusive .SIS file to no avail.

In the end, I called up Singtel Mobile and they were kind enough to send it to me. My friend got the same file, courtesy of Starhub, along with the updated Blackberry Connect Desktop for Sony Ericsson, which you will need to pair your email service with your Blackberry client.

Overall, though, I have no regrets. This is a pretty great device. It's small, and fits into my pants pockets without sagging the whole side down and gives me my Blackberry email service on the go.

But to be honest, I do worry about Blackberry's future. Microsoft's competing push-mail is getting a lot more traction from mobile phone manufacturers and often come pre-installed with the phone (like my m600 and various Nokia models), so this does not require a convoluted installation process like the way my friend and I found out with the Blackberry route. In fact, my Dopod has had to run with an older firmware (v1.20) from T-Mobile to support Blackberry. The newest firmware (v1.30) comes with Microsoft Push Mail support, which will conflict with the Blackberry software. This is bad because the new firmware also fixes a lot of old bugs in my old v1.20 firmware including Bluetooth connection dropping out and a slower buggier interface.

Also, Microsoft's pushmail service comes bundled free with Exchange 2003 with the right service pack. This could be a very tempting proposition to enterprises who don't wish to pay for extra hardware for Blackberry servers and extra licences.

Right now, Blackberry still has some breathing room because they have already built up a very credible installed base in the Enterprise space, but if they keep making it difficult for users to find alternative handsets (other than their own), Microsoft's proposition may just be more attractive in the long run. Let's face it, how many of us really cherish the idea of carrying a separate device for Blackberry if a single device could take care of everything.

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 Friday June 30, 2006

Belkin Pre-N good, NetGear RangeMAX not so good
21:41 PM - bktoh
Just an update on this whole networking upgrading I was working on for the last couple of months.

Remember when I was asking if anyone of you guys had experience with this?



Well, no one responded. GEE THANKS GUYS!!



Anyway, I was getting progressively pissed off with the horrendous 2wire's router/wireless capabilities, even though it did work pretty much flawlessly as an ADSL2+ modem.

As you may remember, the 2wire did not support any form of MAC address filtering, so I initially tried WEP, but the weak wireless strength coupled with the overheads of running WEP made it pretty much unusable.

WPA was broken too, not that I could use it since some older systems I had didn't even support WPA.

My XBox360 USB wireless connector would often just fail to see any wireless signal and interrupt my XBox Live downloads.

So eventually, I caved and bought the NetGear.

I mean on paper, it sounded really good.

It had the RangeMax MIMO wireless was supposed to improve the range and strength of the wireless network for my other 802.11b/g devices.

And of course, it supported ADSL2+ standards to work with my 10Mbps connection.

Initial setup seemed fine...

Installation was hitchless as you would expect from an integrated modem/router device like the 2wire.

But the wireless connection didn't seem to be a huge boost from the 2wire. Never having used RangeMax or other MIMO devices before, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Sure it was a disappointment, but it wasn't a deal-breaker.

What WAS the deal-breaker was the modem part itself.

Man, this thing disconnected like 5 times in the 2 days I had it running. Checking the Netgear website was useless. The Singapore section didn't even list it and I already got the most updated firmware, so no luck there.

*sigh*

The worst part was that I was running an AMD LIVE! demo on my home network (will talk about that in another rant in the future).

Part of the demos included being able to log in to my PC from wherever I was, and control my PC as well as seamlessly stream stuff off my home "media server".

But if my ADSL modem was facing connection issues, I was basically "screwed".

So today, I brought the set back in for a replacement at South Asia in Funan. I did get some grief initially because they wanted to replace it with another unit. But I had already enough with the NetGear and they finally relented.

I did some research beforehand and found out Aztech was one of those brands that was tested with Singnet, so I decided to reconsider my options.

Aztech had a ADSL2+ modem/router/wireless 54G gateway as well as a standalone Ethernet/USB modem. Both were Singnet "certified".

In the end, I opted for a more complicated two box solution. No point getting another basic 54G wireless solution.

I know, it's not pretty, but as an engineer, function before form, any day Build quality felt pretty sturdy and the power adaptor was pretty nice and chunky with a proper UK 3 pin connector.

This was then supplemented by this


PreN MIMO specs with supposedly better range. Again, build quality of the Belkin was good. If anything, the power adaptor was a much sturdier unit than any of my previous routers.

And then for my notebook, a matching preN MIMO adaptor.

Setting up these two devices were a tad more convoluted, though I doubt it would phase any of our readers.

First, I had to switch the modem to bridged mode, then verify it worked using Windows to initiate a PPPOE dial up. That worked flawlessly and I was able to do a quick Singnet bandwidth test: abt 99xx Kb/sec (close to the theoretical 10Mbps)

Next I disconnected the modem from the PC and proceeded to configure the Belkin using the Wizard on the CD. I would have preferred to use a web based interface, but the CD wizard was still quite painless.

Once that was done, I proceeded to test my other networked devices and they all seemed to work just fine. I was particularly impressed with the network strength on my XBox 360 USB wireless adaptor. It was now a healthy green status as opposed to the usual yellow with the 2wire or the Netgear.

On the notebook front, things weren't so rosy. For the life of me, my notebook's Broadcom wireless just couldn't see the network. Maybe it was because I disabled SSID broadcast. In any case, guess it was good foresight that I got the pre-N PC Card. With a full pre-N setup, am getting a good 108Mbps connection with abt 78% signal strength in my bedroom where I would normally get 11Mbps with a weak signal on the 2Wire and NetGear. Though to be fair, this is with a full pre-N setup.

So overall, I am pretty happy with the setup now.

Now, just fingers crossed that the connection remains stable

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 Saturday June 10, 2006

Holy Cow! Opteron processor turns into paper weight
20:05 PM - kan
So there I was trying to fix my watercooling kit which had developed some piping issues and what started out to be an eventful day turns into nightmare (as usual). I was trying to perform a delicate surgery by separating the waterblock from the processor when I accidentally pulled my Opteron 165 processor out from the socket without unlatching it!

Arghhh!! I think I nearly jumped out from my apartment window if not for the fact that my window is too small for me to squeeze through. Here's an image of the bent pins.



Looks like I need to pass my Opteron 165 processor to someone skilful enough to bend the pins back. Hey, can I send it back to AMD for RMA?

A quick check with our local suppliers confirms that the prices of the Opteron dual-core series didn't drop for the past 6 months! In fact, it has been rising steadily!

On a personal front, Wilfred just got married last week. Congratulations!

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 Sunday May 21, 2006

Update on HomePlug Ethernet over Power adaptors
22:04 PM - bktoh
As you may recall, just yesterday I was griping about how my HomePlug Ethernet over Power adaptors from Aztech didn't work cos my main power lines and the ones used by my contractor for my Home Theater/HiFi rack were on different phases?

Earlier today, I recalled that I got a second contractor to put in a power point in my patch panel room to power my Ethernet (now Gbit) switch.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I got the 2 adaptors and hooked one to my hifi rack and a second one to the patch panel room.

VOILA. Real handy cos I just hooked the Cat5E cable straight into the Ethernet switch. Am getting around 53Mbps throughput. Not too shabby and it does appear that the connection is more stable and the throughput more sustainable in initial tests.

Now, all I probably gotta do is to get a MIMO type ADSL2+ modem/router with stronger wireless transmission. Saw a NetGear one that looks promising.

http://www.netgear.com/products/details/DG834PN.php



Anyone used one of these with Singtel 10Mbps line before? Drop me a mail and let me know how you are getting on.

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 Saturday May 20, 2006

More Gadgets! Gone Stir Crazy
18:01 PM - bktoh
Man, I really went nuts yesterday.

Ever since I switched to Singnet 10Mbps ADSL subscription from SCV, my wireless network had gotten seriously crippled.

The 2Wire wireless modem/router was seriously bad. Sure the internet connection was good, but it just wasn't quite as robust as my old SMC as a router. No WPA, no MAC filtering and the wireless signal was uber weak.

I got some ideas from local forums and friends. One was to get a Ethernet over Power adapter. It was pretty cool being able to use home power lines to provide Ethernet cabling. Can imagine it would be a lifesaver for older apartments, where wireless can be less than ideal.
http://www.aztech.com.sg/prod_homeplug_hl105e.html


Not bad since they could get 85Mbps throughput. So that was my first purchase.

Also, I was running low on storage space and I wasn't really keen to get YET another external USB2 storage box. I already have 4x3.5" USB2/1394 devices and all the cabling and power to those 4 devices was just adding a lot of clutter to my PC desk. And that's excluding my 3x2.5" USB2.0 portable drives.

I was really looking at building a new PC/storage box using salvaged parts. But I really wanted a low power system I could leave on all the time. My current 1.6GHz@2.1GHz P4 had served me well but it was a little underpowered as a media server.

My 3.2GHz S478 from my old HTPC was the closest one I could find.

My first stop was in TakNet in Sim Lim level 5 where they had a 5xSATA drive bay with hot plug capabilities. You just plugged the enclosure into a 3x5.25" drive bay in your casing and voila. Instant 5 drive upgrade.

That was about S$350.

But the thing was I had a much much nicer P4 2.73GHz XE and it didn't seem right to upgrade such an old system. Then I thought about getting an Athlon64 FX based one. And quickly shut down that idea.

A couple of stores down in Chamoxa, I found this


Specifications
  • CPU Intel IOP
  • 1st Network Interface Gigabit Intel 82541
  • Optional 2nd Network Interface Gigabit Intel 82541 or Wireless 802.11b/g
  • SATA Controller - Intel SATA controller (4 SATA hard drives)
  • Flash 16MB
  • HDD 4x bays of 3.5 SATA HDD,
  • Single capacity supported 80/120/160/200/250/300/400GB
  • AC/DC 200W ATX power supply
  • Adapter AC 100~240Volt, 50/60 Hz
  • LED
    • 1 x Power LED
    • 1 x System busy LED (booting, upgrade, shutdown)
    • 2 x Network link + activity LED
    • 4 x Hard drive power LED
    • 4 x Hard drive activity LED
  • Dimension 167mm(W) x 199mm(H) x 223mm(D)
  • RAID Levels 0, 1, 5, JBOD
  • Auto Rebuild Rebuild new hard drives by inserting HDD to and existing RAID system
  • Hot Swap Hard drives are allowed to be removed and inserted on the fly and N4100 still provides service during swapping
  • Client
    • Platform Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP
    • UNIX/Linux/BSD (by CIFS)
    • Apple OS X (by CIFS)
Pretty decent specs. HW IOP RAID and hot plug to boot. And it was cool enough to leave running for most of the day as well. That was I can keep using my P4 1.6GHz as a dedicated surfing/email/download PC. Bought 2x300GB of HDD as well

Thing was this thing supported GBit connection. As did a number of my newer machines. So next thing I knew, I bought 2 of these:

One for my patch panel room for the home network and one for the desk.

And to top it off, a Linksys Gigabit NIC for the old P4 1.6GHz.

Got home and hooked everything up.

First the bad news.

The power over ethernet plugs didn't work. That was because my contractor used a different phase of the power supply for my hifi rack. From what I can tell, the plugs that came with the house all used the same phase so the 2 plugs couldn't see each other. *sigh*

Damn.

I was getting 85Mbps within the same room and abt 45Mbps in the living room.

But hooking up the GBit switches and the NAS turned out to be surprisingly easy.

And voila! 600GB of storage on the network (faster than USB2.0 to boot when copying stuff from my Gbit PCs!)

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 Monday May 15, 2006

More Adventures with the Dopod 900 aka The Brick
14:43 PM - bktoh
I actually have gotten used to the size, and when you are travelling, it can be an immense livesaver.

It's not perfect (dammit gimme 128MB RAM dammit) but it does just about what I want to do from it...

Let's see.. rushed off from office to the airport on Thursday for a long weekend break. After clearing customs, I checked my Blackberry client and got 3 work emails fired off before I took off. Felt a vague sense of accomplishment.

Reached Bangkok. Despite telling the airport taxi counter staff the name of the hotel, the cabbie assigned still didn't know where we were headed. The reservations we printed were in English so that was no use as well. We were already on the highway and since I spoke no Thai and he no English, it was a deadlock.

Whipped out the dopod, and with GPRS connected, I googled for the address and contact number. Called reception and then got the hotel staff to tell the driver the directions. Cool!

While wifey was walking down Siam Square, I parked myself outside the new Toyota F1 cafe with free wireless hotspot and got connected to check my emails, get on MSN Messenger. Pretty liberating experience.

Keyboard was just handy for typing "professionally spelt" emails (without having to resort to SMS-ish abbreviations all the time)

640x480 is a far cry from my notebook's 1650x1050 resolution, but it still displays most websites in a pinch, and still slips into my baggy jeans (albeit making is sag a lot)

Overall it has been growing on me.


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