Posts in category hardware - page 5

Reinstalling Windows XP on a 750GB monster

My first ever hard-disk was a whopping 2GB when 340MB was considered high-end.  £800 meant it was a steal – an end-of-line trade-only offer…

A massive double-height 5.25″ SCSI behemoth from DEC that sounded like a turbine powering up. It had a gyroscopic effect that could whip your hand off and a seek noise that resonated through the house in the early hours of the morning as another caller trawled Black Ice BBS’s file library.

But it did take a while to fill up.

The 300GB that was in my home desktop shared no characteristics other than the fact it too has outlived it’s usefulness.

Loaded with the majority of Windows games I’ve ever owned, comprehensive libraries of emulator images, checked-out source trees, MP3 library or humorous nuggets from the like of YouTube I think I might possibly miss.

Installation of the 750GB Seagate wasn’t without the odd snag.  The BIOS and Windows recognized it fine but the season changed while waiting for it to format. Copying was slow too until I discovered it running in PIO mode which flooded the P4 CPU with interrupts.  Sticking it on a different SATA connector brought UDMA and speed to the table.

The data was transferred and re-organized over the course of an evening or two.  Dewey would have been proud but then came the horror.

Reinstalling Windows XP.

Windows itself actually installed just fine until Windows Activation reared it’s ugly head and decided I’d been through this enough times and would have to convince Microsoft India over the phone that I’m not a software-stealing pirate.

A little sweet-talking, with a slight diversion into honesty and how yes I have multiple copies on the same physical machine, it’s called VirtualPC, and I’m back on track installing the usual array of tools, options and preferences as fast as the MX1000 will whip around the screen.

I decided to break with tradition and switch Watercolor Visual Style for a QNX one and give Miranda a go instead of Trillian.

I’m such a dare-devil.

Then came the task of installing all those games and applications again… except I’ve been through this before many many times and I’ve got a trick or two up my sleeve.

My games should live in c:\Games and applications in c:\Apps but they only get there once I’m sure they are independent from my Windows installation.  Until they graduate they live in c:\Program Files with the rest of the mess.

The procedure is quite simple.  If it’s worth keeping:

  1. Move correct folder from c:\Program Files to new home
  2. Create shortcut on desktop to the executable
  3. Try and launch via shortcut
  4. Copy any missing files it complains about from old Windows directories to new home
  5. Copy missing config/settings from c:\Documents and Settings to new home
  6. If settings still missing reboot into old HD
  7. Fire up Regedit, find the registry keys and export to a .reg file
  8. Reboot into new HD
  9. Open .reg file in Notepad and adjust paths to new home
  10. Run registry file and save to new home for next time

If that fails then you’ve got to dig out the original media again but you might be able to avoid downloading and reinstalling those hefty patches all over again. 

Reinstall into c:\Program Files and once done try running the patched version from it’s new home instead.  If that one now works then just delete (not uninstall) the version from c:\Program Files :)

You can end up with a Windows machine just loaded will all your favorite games and apps without hardly any window cruft accumulating :)

It’s basically the same principle behind portable applications but instead of making it totally portable on a memory stick you just make it portable between installations of Windows.

The next step is to use some of the 400GB left to store CD images the games I still play that annoying always want the CD to launch despite taking up so much space on the hard disk.  I get bored of digging out the CD from my library every time.

I can’t imagine CD copy protection will make my life very easy.

[)amien

Apple’s Showtime and the disappointing iTV

Today’s Apple Showtime event showed some great products, and some disappointing ones.

iPods

The tiny new iPod Shuffle G2, the fantastic looking iPod Nano G2 with the return of the iPod Mini aluminum casing and 24 hour battery life and 8GB flash option weren’t to be sniffed at.

The iPod got… downloadable $4.99 games and an 80GB model. No sign of the long sought-after wide-screen touch-screen model with the virtual wheel.

iTunes

The expected downloadable movie announcement was made with movies at 640×480 – that’s 4x their existing TV-show/music video size and now on-par with the resolution of PC’s circa the late 80’s.

Job advises us this is “near DVD” which is kinda true DVD being 720×480/576. DVD given good quality source material, careful encoding and decent equipment can look pretty fine even blown up to 120″ on your wall.

What I couldn’t find out thought was how they intend on fitting widescreen movies into their distinctly non-wide-screen resolution.

DVD resolution is a little wider but more importantly it has an anamorphic mode where rather than waste pixels on the black bars the picture is stretched vertically before being encoded on the disk and then stretched horizontally on the way out of your DVD player – much the same way as widescreen movies were shot on non-widescreen film albeit with anamorphic lenses.

Jobs didn’t elaborate on whether they’ll have such a mode or something better…

Thanks to the complex licensing agreements between studios worldwide movies are a US exclusive so the rest of the world will have to sit and wait anyway.

iTunes 7 & Software Update

Adds support for movie & iPod G4 game downloads and the user interface may well be a taste of things to come in Leopard. Flat blue gradients where aqua bubbles previously existed (equalizer, scroll bars).

Also introduced is a couple of new ways to view your local library using high quality rendered album cover art (like FrontRow) and a sort of mixed up mode (like Windows Media Player 11).

It’ll also now helpfully grab album art for albums you ripped from your own CD’s and show the breakdown of the disk usage of your pod by content type (movie/art/music).

What is interesting is iTunes 7 introduces “Apple Software Update” which looks curiously like it’s Mac OS X counterpart…

iTV

Towards the end of the announcement came the one last thing…. code-named iTV (I can’t imagine they’ll get the rights to this name in the UK where ITV is one of the big TV stations).

The announcement itself was a little unusual – it’s for a new hardware product they haven’t finished and won’t be available for months. I can only conclude they are airing the product to help shift downloadable movies with users knowing they can play it back on the big-screen.

I’m sure neither Apple or the studios want another Sony UMD disaster.

When I heard the words “Mac Mini” and “TV” I thought this could be the answer to my home entertainment hub… alas no. Rather than extend to the mini with support for DVB-S/T/C or UHF tuners and PVR functionality they abandon the hard disk entirely… and the DVD-ROM drive to boot.

Which leaves iTV with no TV support in the traditional sense. If you want content it’ll have to come from iTunes and unless Jobs and his pals add illegal DVD ripping that means buying everything again from the iTunes Store, sticking with your DVD player or buying a more capable media center.

Would the iPod have been such a success if you couldn’t link in to your existing content but had to pay for all your music again?

Very doubtful.

The final icing on the cake is that the box will set you back $299. That’s exactly the same price as the Xbox 360 which will also stream media from a host computer over a network. The difference being that the 360 will play DVD’s and let you play state of the art games for that price.

iTV? More like Apple Cube 2.

[)amien

The HTC TyTN smartphone reviewed

For some time now I’ve been on the lookout to replace my aging Sony Ericsson P900 with something just as powerful but better equipped. With a keyboard high on my wish-list too the choice kept coming down to Danger’s Sidekick II, the Blackberry or the iMate K-Jam.

Reviews of the K-Jam suggested it was a little slow and the Sidekick II has been an age in coming. The Blackberry is a closed platform and looks like a cheap 90’s PDA.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that that the people who manufacture the K-Jam, or Qtek9100 as they prefer to call it, were shipping a replacement called the HTC TyTN – pronounced Titan apparently.

Luckily for me the official UK retainer Expansys had a handful of the new wonder-phone in stock a couple of weeks before the official August 30 launch date and so I nabbed one as quickly as I could.

Features

The feature set is a logical progression on from the 9100 – both of which include;

  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0
  • Mobile versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, IE, MSN
  • GSM Quad-Band GPRS/EDGE
  • ROM 128MB, SDRAM 64MB
  • LCD touch screen 240x320x64K 2.8″ TFT
  • 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 1.2, Infra-red
  • USB connectivity
  • MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV/AMR audio support

But then the TyTN addresses the 9100’s shortcomings and up’s the ante:

  • Processor up from the TI OMAP 250MHz to Samsung’s 400MHz ARM
  • miniSD slot switches to the even smaller Micro SD
  • Camera jumps up from 1.3 mega pixels to 2.0 mega pixels and gains an adjustable lens and digital zoom
  • Secondary camera for video calls appears
  • UMTS Tri-Band support added so you can use it in Canada/USA
  • Keys made larger by removing the space between them
  • Weight shifts up from the 9100’s mere 160g to 176g (with battery)
  • Keyboard now back-lit in low-light (Apple style ;-)

Unpacking

It seems you can’t review a product these days without describing the packaging and box. I’m pretty sure Apple are to blame for this.

The box is a smartly designed black affair that seems to indicate HTC are prepared to spend the money to get their own brand up on shelves and being successful. I don’t think this means they’re abandoning their ORM role and I’m sure you’ll see Orange/iMate branded versions soon enough.

Inside the box are the phone, a spare stylus, a leather carry case with belt-clip and strong magnets to keep it closed. These magnets are so strong I’ve found my car keys getting stuck to them unexpectedly once or twice. You don’t want to be putting your credit cards in a pocket near it.

Size

It is very similar in size to the Sony P900 – slightly smaller width and height wise but a little deeper and heavier. For comparison:

Various hand-held devices

Shown (from left to right): Sony PSP, Nintendo DS Lite, Gameboy Advance SP (above) / Sony P900 (below), HTC TyTN, iPod Photo, LG Chocolate.

Software

In addition to the Windows Mobile software and the pocket/mobile Office applications there are a few additional useful apps. These include:

  • ClearVue PDF takes care of viewing Adobe’s popular document format
  • Terminal Services client lets you take remote control of Windows desktops
  • Mobile version of Windows Media for playing those MPEG4 videos
  • Zip for creating and extracting files to/from ZIP archives
  • ActiveSync client for sync’ing with PC’s
  • MIDlet manager for managing any installed Java MIDP applications
  • Messaging application handling SMTP/POP3, MMS, SMS and Hotmail messaging
  • MSN application providing access to MSN Messenger instant messaging

This is in additional to the usual phone type applications and management software including an awful calculator application that has a terrible UI and only the most basic of features.

When left on it’s own the phone likes to revert to the “Today” application which shows you the current date, owner, unread message counts, active task count and the next upcoming appointment.<

A shortcoming of this is that the upcoming appointment often displays just the day of the week “Monday, Tuesday” etc. whilst the current date is shown simply as “26 August 2006”.

If, like me, you often forget which day of the week it is then this screen can send you into shock wondering if the shown appointment is this week or next. Adding either the day of the month to the appointment or current day of the week to this screen would help.

Input

The device certainly isn’t short of ways to tell it what to do…

  • Stylus – selecting UI elements as well as entering text via the on-screen keyboard, sentence transcriber or individual character recognition
  • Keyboard – slides out and lets you type what you like as well as providing cursor keys/tab to navigate the UI and two option selection buttons
  • Keys – Some 14 function keys as well as a jog and cursor control each with their own select button too
  • Voice – Recognition for making calls

Handwriting recognition was pretty good, certainly up from the P900 and when using the actual keyboard a T9 style prompting system means even slow typists can throw together proper messages without having to resort to text-speak.

Phone

Many reviews seem to completely overlook the fact that they are reviewing a phone and that making calls is a big part of that.

Calls were to be as expected however the primary interface for placing them was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

Presented with a touch-screen numeric pad as you start to type the number a list of people who match the name (using the ABC on 1 etc – a bit like T9) pops up.

So to make a call to Tony for example you’ll just press 8669 and select the correct Tony from the display as opposed to most phones where you have to hold 8 down until it switches from numeric to contacts list then start scrolling down a long list. Whilst you’re pressing the numbers it emits the usual DMTF tone which lets you use the device as a keypad for other phones…

Camera

Pictures from the camera are sharp and well defined under good outdoor conditions. Once inside things deteriorate as is the usual case with mobile despite the on-board light/flash.

Messaging

The messaging applications picked up my POP3/SSL mail just fine and quite happily sent replies via SMTP/SSL with authentication. The SMS/MMS shares the same application and interface so once you’re through the tricky setup process things are rather easy going.

Syncing

I must confess that all my contacts, music and appointments all live in Mac OS X so I was very upset to find that iSync doesn’t support Windows Mobile devices.

The aptly named The Missing Sync came to the rescue and let me sync up my contacts via the USB port although there seemed to be some issues syncing via Bluetooth that I think are more TyTN related than a fault of OS X or The Missing Sync.

Connectivity

The device supports connectivity and charging through it’s own mini-USB connector which worked just flawlessly under OS X.

Bluetooth is also supported and here things didn’t work too well. When trying to pair under Windows the OS would quickly give up waiting for the phone before you’d had chance to type the second number. Pairing under OS X was more successful but the information provided suggested it doesn’t support the Obex file transfer system which made it rather tricky to send files to the device.

Wireless connectivity over 802.11b/g showed quite good reception, reaching not quite as far as my MacBook Pro but only a few meters off being able to get a usable connection. It can take a few moments longer to get the connection established than the status shows so give it a second before hitting send/receive.

Thankfully there is also an option to automatically turn off WiFi when not being used. Apart from saving a bit of battery life you’d go man with the constant chimes it emits as you drive past various WiFi networks…

Overall

If you like to have your email, web, Skype and a few useful tools with you at all times and lugging a laptop round all day isn’t an option (when is it?) then this could be the phone for you.

Based on the Windows Mobile OS you can be sure of a wealth of third party applications for it or failing that write your own using Visual Studio 2005. It’s got the features and potential the Blackberry and P9xx series can only dream of.

[)amien

Sony EyeToy on Windows

I got a new silver Sony EyeToy for my birthday (along with the EyeToy 3 games, thanks Amy!) and found that it didn’t want to play with Windows.

The earlier black model worked just fine with a modified INF file and so it was back to notepad to slip in the required lines.

Rather than give instructions on messing round with downloading other people’s drivers and editing .inf files I’ve just packed it all up.

Download Sony EyeToy drivers (Windows) (404KB)

[)amien