Posts in category hardware - page 3

What’s in your laptop bag?

Since my new laptop arrived I’ve been fine tuning my accessories in search of the developer-on-the-move setup. Here is my current contents complete with shameless Amazon Affiliate product links where applicable ;-)

Brenthaven Pro BackPack

My parents bought me the Brenthaven Pro 15-17 Backpack for Christmas. It has a great number of sections and compartments yet can still be thinly packed with the padding contributing to a comfortable wear. The only negatives are that the finish seems a little rough in places and that the rigid laptop protection area seems to be designed to hold a laptop almost twice as thick as a MacBook Pro despite claims of being ‘Designed for a 15.4″ MacBook and 17″ MacBook Pro’.

Of course the dream laptop bag would have an external USB port that would power and charge various devices within ;-)

RadTech sleeve & protector

I’ve owned RadTech sleeves for all three of my Apple laptop’s to date and they’ve all been excellent. Snug fitting, soft but hard-wearing and well-made they keep the machines clean and scratch-free. Now available in a multitude of colors but call me a traditionalist I’ve stuck with aluminum-grey. I also recommend grabbing a screen protector that sits between the keyboard and screen that doubles up as a cleaning cloth.

OCZ Rally 2 4GB USB stick

Another gift I received is the ever-useful USB memory stick for those odd file transfer tasks. The OCZ 4GB Rally 2 USB 2.0 Flash Drive can double up as a Vista ReadyBoost cache (providing you are booted natively, neither Parallels or VMware Fusion emulate it fast enough) and is housed in a small black metal enclosure the size of my little finger. Minor downsides are the easily-lost cap and the green led that casts an eerie glow over the geek at the keyboard.

Microsoft Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 600

I’ve been using mice with laptops less over the years as my comfort with track-pads has grown and i have found myself without desk space for a mouse. The Microsoft Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 600 works quite well however and the battery seems to last for ages. It is quite light and possibly a bit too small to be comfortable and if I was to replace it I’d go with something Bluetooth to avoid the dongle (which clips into the mouse when not in use).

iPod Nano

I purchased a iPod Nano 8GB 3G late last year after my 60GB iPod died. The device is incredibly small with a good battery life and fantastic display. Not convinced that the screen or control is suited for video or games but it makes a great little music player – I’m just hoping the flash models have a longer lifespan.

Philips Earbuds

These Philips HN060/37 ‘Noise-Canceling’ Earbuds are pretty good considering the price, size and battery life. Whilst they don’t cancel noise out the combination of the in-ear mechanism, volume booster and the active circuity does help suppress noise levels somewhat and I have found them particularly useful on flights. Some people find the high-pitched white noise the circuitry generates annoying and others find in-ear plugs irritating however. Personally the only problem I have with them is that the rubber pieces tend to come off and get lost quite easily but you can buy generic replacement packs from many airport/music stores.

My Book Pro 500GB External Drive

Leopard’s Time Machine combined with a Western Digital My Book Studio 500GB External Hard Drive provides me with a simple backup strategy that is lightning fast via FireWire 800 (800 Mbps) and still speedy over USB 2 (480 Mbps).

The Studio drive I linked to also provides eSATA support (couldn’t find mine on Amazon). It isn’t always in my backpack but does make a regular appearance.

Cables etc.

The bane of every techie’s life. Currently includes 1m USB extender, a USB to mini-USB cable that connects my TyTN, PSP, BlackBerry and Canon EOS 400D to my MacBook Pro and the Apple DVI to VGA adapter for presentations. The Apple-supplied remote also sits in there for exactly that purpose.

Stationary

I like to keep a Moleskine pocket notepad tucked away, ruled by preference until they make a graph-paper version. This is normally coupled with a Pilot G2 at the moment which is comfy and smooth but takes too long to dry and is still too thick in the 0.38mm ’05’ version. Without sounding like a pen obsessive I’m going to try a Uni-Ball Signo Bit 0.18 next! There is also a nondescript mechanical pencil and large eraser.

Reading

Yes, there is still room in this TARDIS of a laptop bag for reading material. At the moment it is alternating between Designing Type, Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager and The Art of Intrusion all of which were Christmas gifts :)

That’s it! would love to find out what other people keep in their laptop bags and hear suggestions on some of my weak spots. I wish I could fit a full-size tactile keyboard in it but I guess I’ll live!

[)amien

One week with a MacBook Pro 17″

It has been one week since I picked up my new MacBook Pro 17″ to replace my aging first-generation 15″ model.

My initial concern was that the size and weight would be unwieldy after 4 years of lugging around a 15″ MacBook Pro and a prior to that a Titanium PowerBook G4. The actual problem was that my trusty Samsonite Trunk & Co. backpack could not accommodate it and that I’d have to hope Santa would deliver something a little bigger. Being properly kitted up might reveal if the dimensions and weight are uncomfortable so expect an update once I’ve travelled with the beast.

MacBook Pro 17″ image courtesy of Apple Inc.The screen is fantastic, a little brighter, and provides me with a desktop-like experience in terms of real estate thanks to the combination of the increased size and the high-definition 1920×1200 option. I had examined the glossy finish in-store and found having my face and the rest of the store glaring back at me far too distracting for real work (it might be nice for watching DVD’s in the dark I guess) and so went with the matte finish. Surprisingly it is a little more reflective than the older MBP but not overly so and it does make removing unwelcome fingerprints easier.

One problem I had with m 15″ was that heavy use of Visual Studio within Parallels wasn’t always cutting it on performance. Compilation was faster than the cheap HP/Compaq desktop I’d been using but still wasn’t snappy enough to keep my attention tightly focused ;-)

I went with top options – a 2.6GHz processor coupled with 4GB of RAM and a 7200RPM 200GB drive – to ensure maximum performance. Mac OS X and native Vista did not disappoint and felt like a speedy desktop despite Vista being 32-bit and limited to 3GB of RAM until Apple ship a 64-bit ready Boot Camp drivers and tools.

My .NET development typically takes place inside a virtual machine – previously Parallels but now evaluating VMware Fusion with its enticing dual-core and 64-bit guest OS support. Both Parallels and Fusion had similar almost-native performance in the disk and processor department on my 15″ according to Vista’s performance index and I’ve yet to rerun those (stay tuned). Whichever gets Aero/DirectX 9Ex shader support first will be my home for a while.

Battery life was a big surprise offering over 3 hours and I certainly feel less conscious of where the next power feed is coming from although that is partly due to the poor battery on my old machine being rather tired and worn.

One big disappointment is the keyboard. Firstly it is the same size as the 15″ model which leaves the extra space to the speaker grille. Whilst the speakers do sound far superior – good enough to actually listen to music on – I couldn’t help but feel a wider enter key, a second ctrl and a little f-key spacing could have gone a long way. What is more concerning is that many keys do not register if hit off-centre even by a slight amount :(

There are still some things to try:

  • Games under native Vista taking advantage of the Nvidia 8600M GT chip
  • Time Machining my MyBook Pro external drive over FireWire 800 (800 Mb/s) instead of USB2 (400 Mb/s)
  • Burning DVD performance
  • Removing DVD drive (UJ-85J FBZ8) region protection (RPC) to play my DVD collection

[)amien

In search of the perfect keyboard

I started programming at 12 and have been fortunate to carve out a successful career in something I love to do. People find it strange when I talk with passion about IDEs, fonts, color schemes, mice and keyboards.

To me it seems perfectly natural when you consider a writer has strong preference and passion for pens and notebooks and photographers spend a small fortune on specific lenses and cameras to get the shot they want.

For years I was happy with my Apple Pro keyboard and then one day found myself messing around with my Amiga A600 and realized my typing was faster and more accurate on the Amiga than on the PC.

Some prefer “ergonomic” split-keyboards, others are impressed by back lighting, LCD screens or even an OLED display in every key. Most reviews skip over the most important aspect – what it is like to type on.

IBM Model M

IBM Model M keyboardI have fond memories of typing away on the IBM XT, AT and 5150 terminals and I found myself at eBay eyeing up an original unused IBM Model M keyboard similar to the ones those machines used.

Whilst the keyboard uses a membrane each key has its own spring that buckles as the key is pressed. This gives a satisfying tactile click that saw typing speed further accelerate than on the Amiga. Each key comprises of two plastic parts, the main body and the outer shell or key-cap. This means you can easily re-arrange the keys or put on specialist caps.

The Model M is a joy to type on but isn’t without fault. I can live without the Windows keys but the keyboard sports a huge surround taking up masses of desk space, is incredibly heavy and sounds like a machine gun when you get going with it.

Matias Tactile Pro

The Mattias Pro keyboard Apple produced a legendary keyboard too, the Apple Extended Keyboard but this has some immediate drawbacks in that it uses the Apple Desktop Bus, so would need an adapter, and is also tricky to get hold of.

I settled on the Matias Tactile Pro which uses the same Alps switches for each key but comes in a more friendly USB version. Designed for the Mac it has some extra keys and helpfully each key shows the various extra symbols available with the Alt key.

The Tactile Pro is great to type on however it is even louder than the IBM Model M and only available in the US key-map which means it is a couple of keys short. The enclosure mimics that of the Apple Pro keyboard but uses an inferior plastic that feels cheap and does nothing to dampen the volume but does helpfully feature a two port passive USB hub.

Note: The Matias Tactile Pro is an OEM version of the Strong Man SMK-Power989X. Matias now have the Tactile Pro 2.

DAS Keyboard II

DAS 2 mechanical keyboard I’d heard some good things about the DAS Keyboard II which unlike it’s predecessor is also mechanical but uses individual switches from one of the original keyboard manufacturers, Cherry.

The DAS II is USB and is a little quieter than the other two keyboards but is still loud enough to annoy nearby co-workers and yet nicer to type on than the other two. One of the selling points of the DAS II is that each key is totally blank resulting in one black keyboard but I could take or leave it.

Where the DAS does fall down is the large echo-inducing enclosure and the cheap-feeling plastic used for both the keys and the surround.

Note: The DAS Keyboard is effectively a custom OEM version of the Cherry G80 series.

Apple ultra-thin wired

Apple aluminum scissor-switch keyboardI only picked up this keyboard a few days ago so my experience with it is not as extensive as the others which all got a fair work-in. Impressions so far are very good despite it being a scissor-switch like most laptops and not mechanical like the others.

The surround is an absolute minimum which is fantastic and it looks great. Noise levels are sufficiently quiet and the feeling very enjoyable despite the low-profile and gaps between the keys. The addition of a built-in USB hub is useful but MacBook Pro style light-sensitive back lighting would have been great.

Where next?

I’m sticking with the Apple at home for at least a couple of weeks and will continue to use the DAS at work for now. The Model M and the Matias are currently gathering dust in the cupboard.

I have already modified my DAS II by removing it from the enclosure and placing it on a soft sponge material. It is immediately much quieter with less echo and a soft wrist rest which solves some of the issues. Replacing the keys with a softer rubberized plastic would be great but injection molding is rather expensive.

Check out the GeekHack keyboard forum for like minded chat.

[)amien

Windows Mobile 6 on the HTC TyTN with a Mac

Windows Mobile 6 on the HTC TyTNIt’s been a while coming but HTC have announced Windows Mobile 6 for the TyTN (Hermes, Dopod 838Pro, iMate JASJAM , SoftBank X01HT).

Curiously the update isn’t available on their site yet despite the announcement however the enterprising folks at XDA Developers Forums have made the official HTC versions available for download.

Upgrade process

The Windows-only (crack out Parallels) upgrade process didn’t go too smoothly, perhaps because I’d been running an unofficial pre-release version.

The first two attempts failed despite following the instructions to the letter. On the third attempt I left it on the familiar red-green-blue boot-screen a previous attempt had left it on and just ignored all the on-screen instructions and it flashed just fine.

Sync on the Mac

There is no official Windows Mobile sync software available on the Mac however Missing Sync for Windows Mobile is a capable, if somewhat temperamental, solution.

Version 4 is required for Windows Mobile 6 compatibility and is capable of syncing files, music, notes, bookmarks and photos as well as the expected contacts and calendars.

The initial problem is getting the Bluetooth to start syncing is a bit of a nightmare. The best advice is if it fails to do anything when you try to sync then delete both ends of the Bluetooth pair, reboot the Mac and follow the help instructions again.

Calendar sync problems

Everything was now syncing nicely with the exception of the iCal entries. The log gives the cryptic error:

Mark/Space Calendar Events: NSInvalidArgumentException [ISyncConjunctionFilter shouldApplyRecord:withRecordIdentifier:]: the record com.apple.syncservices:0845AD5F-A4C7-48D3-B1D3-B5809C9D000E should have an entity name, but instead it is {}

Over in iCal I couldn’t find anything looking corrupt but a quick Back up Database… followed by a Restore Database Backup… took care of it.

[)amien