These notes are personal opinions about hardware products.
The reviews contained or listed in this page are usually my personal impression of the notable aspect and the overall worth of the things described rather than in depth ones.
After some wavering I have decided not to remove obsolete entries, but to mark them as such, if I notice they are obsolete and I remember to mark them. Obsolescence here means the stuff is no longer available or not at the noted price.
I used to put reviews into this page, but I have changed my mind
as most reviews become rather dated and fit better within
I will put here brief pointers to those reviews here:
In the post-festivities sales at the beginning of the year I found a good offer for a Toshiba U300-13U laptop, a very portable laptop with a 13.3" screen, 2×1.5GHz Core 2 chip, 2GiB of RAM, and 160GB of disk.
Overall I am quite happy with it. Some good points:
Overall I like it more than the Dell D620, where some points of comparison are:
Like with all laptops one should buy with it a spare battery, a spare charger, and at least one backup external disk, and also eventually an extended warranty.
I have already got the external backup disks; I shall buy an extended warranty near the end of the initial warranty (it would be very annoying to pay for an extra two years and warranty and have the laptop destroyed or stolen in the first year).
I have bought as spare the Toshiba 6 cells 5600mAh model, and for a charger a Targus compatible model. Considering how critical the battery is, and how dangerous a faulty battery can be, and how easy they are to design poorly or with bad materials1, I think that a third party battery can be an excessive risk. Buying a random power supply can also be dangerous, but I reckon that it is a lesser risk, and anyhow Targus are a fairly high end supplier with a reputation (and margins) to defend.
The list of GNU/Linux specific tweaks I have used is:
ipw3945driver and dæmon (superceded by the
Method Eto the ALSA ALSA 1.0.14 on my Linux 2.6.23 version.
inteldriver of X.org 7.2, which works but only in XAA mode (EXA has an annoying rendering bug), and which crashes if using DRI.
iwlwifidriver does not associate automatically with 802.11a APs which is really rather inconvenient.
I tend to find most comfortable when sitting somewhat high with respect to keyboard and mouse, so that my elbows are higher than either; this means that usually my legs tend to dangle down from the seat.
Having been a bit swamped with things to do recently, I have had to sit for longer times than usual, and this has been painful, because the edge of the seat than cuts into my thighs, even if I take frequent breaks.
I have tried two solutions. The first is standing up while using screen and keyboard; this work very well and results in avoiding the problem completely, but it rather tires my feet, which then ache; I wonder how shop assistants cope.
The other solution has been to try one of those
kneeling chairs, specifically a
Teknik Office posture chair
(SKU 309854) which is one of those who try to improve posture by
having the sitting person rest their weight in part on a
I usually have a good sitting posture in part because I am careful to have my monitor at eye level, and not much below, but the idea attracted me because it means that the weight of the person rests not so much on buttocks and thighs but also on the knees, and also the legs are not horizontal and point down.
Well, I was a bit disappointed because of two issues:
Also one of the seams of the upper seat ripped soon (probably all too weak sewing).
Well, neither solution is perfect, but both are better than an ordinary chair. The Teknik product has some issues, but it avoids my main problem, and is fairly cheap for a chair, so I think that overall it is fine, but I say this a bit begrudgingly.
The Zalman Fanmate2 is a little device that allows controlling the speed of fans that use the usual 3 pin berg connector style.
Like all the devices of its type it does so by changing the voltage supplied to the fan, and it changes the voltage by applying variable resistance, which means it reduces the power supplied to the fan by dissipating it into heat.
Thus the major issue with such devices is how hot they become. Well, the Fanmate2 behaves very well here: it can dissipate enough to support fans drawing up to 6W, and most fans draw at most around 2W. Indeed with two such fans in my PC (CPU and case fans) the Fanmate does not even feel warm.
It is possible to see a pretty huge heatsink inside the little perforated box that is the body containing the electrical bits, which surely helps a lot. I had tried some other mainfestly poorly built fan voltage control device and it would get very hot, by contrast.
The Fanmate2 also has the considerable advantage of having a quite long cable, which allows great flexibility in positioning the box with the control dial; I have for example put them in an otherwise unused 5.25" slot on the front of my case, for easy access when tuning the speed of the two fans.
Overall so far the Zalman Fanmate2 has been an excellent choice, way better (which mostly means cooler) than others, and still fairly cheap at around £4 each. The only limitation that I can see is that it does not support directly fans that have a 4 pin Molex connector, but it is fairly easy to get 4 pin to 3 pin cables.
is an external enclosure for 3.5" disc drives with an
brick style power supply.
It uses a Prolific PL3057 chip for both USB2 and IEEE1394 bridging to ATA.
It is fairly cheap and convenient, with a clamshell style case that is easy to open and close, but which also seems to be very ugly.
The power supplys is one of those cheap 12V ones that tend to burn out, and is rated at 2.0A, which is not too bad but would not support many 3.5" hard discs that require more power.
The PL3057 chip is a bigger issue, as its IEEE1394 side is, according to my experience and many others reported on the web, practically unusable because of poor reliability. Some people report that updating the firmware in the chip may improve it, but that are contradictory reports even as to that.
The USB2 side of the PL3057 chip actually works fairly decently and with good speed.
Overall I was not that happy with this enclosure, but then the same power limits and reliability problems are pretty common.
No Name (probably Triumph)
is an external USB2/FW enclosure for 5.25" and 3.5"
disc and CD/DVD drives; it has an USB2 to ATA chip
from ALi, the
and a FW to ATA chip from
Oxford Semiconductor, the
It also has an internal power supply rated at 1.8A for 12V.
The bad points are:
Overall I like this box, even if it is a bit annoying to open and close, but both slightly differentw variants that I have seen (I bought two of these boxes) look faily good and robust.
The internal power supply is a lot more convenient than an external one, and the 5.25" form factor means that it can house a CD/DVD drive or a 5.25"-to-3.5" disc drawer., and the OXFW911 IEEE1394 chipset is fast and reliable.
This is a combined ADSL modem, wireless AP, and 100MHz Ethernet switch, with firewall and routing. It is a rebadged product from the Far East, and very similar variants are also sold by SMC and 3com. Indeed many models of these variants are firmware compatible, which is good because the Belkin firmware seems rather buggy and incomplete to me.
The good thing is that it is fairly cheap (I paid £80 at the local Comet shop in Oct. 2004, and it costs only a little less from mail order companies). It also works fairly well and it is easy to set up, with fairly sensible defaults customised for the UK.
Apparently it is also quite reliable and not crash prone (except for cooling problems, which are easily fixed, see below) like other similar products.
It has some bad points though:
firewall, provide some protection, and it is a quite safer to rely on per-host firewall software than one just at the gateway. Unfortunately if that is disable the
DMZfeature is disabled too.
DMZfeature to designate a node as an externally visible server, which is practically necessary if one uses one of several and important protocols that do not traverse well
NATgateways. Unfortunately to enable the DMZ one has to enable the
firewalland this causes trouble with overzealous flooding detection. Anyhow even so the DMZ feature simply seemed to be permanently disabled.
WAN>Connection Type>PPPoA(Routing Mode, for multiple PCs) for the UK form.
WAN>Connection Type>PPPoE(Routing Mode, for multiple PCs) form sets the dial-on-demand and idle-timeout values correctly, and the values it sets apply also to the PPPoA case, so one can first set them in the PPPoE form and then submit the PPPoA form without changes.
Hi, the German C'T magazine nr. 23 of 2004 gives the cause of these problems in a exhaustive comparative test of 19 wireless 54G modem/routers. I quote translated:
It requests names, comprising name-parts separated by periods within some labels, being up to 63 characters long. This complies with the DNS standard of 1987 (RFC 1034), however not for some router programmers in 2004 who designed routers with less memory space for using labels. Direct result: Buffer Overflow and Router crash. In the test this applied to the 3COM, Belkin and SMC wireless routers.
By looking at the source of the web pages of the user interface I have formed the impression that it is quite badly written by rather unskilled people, and this might explain why it seems to me rather awkward and buggy. Reading the impression of the various people who have looked into the firmware update files also gives me an overall sense of shoddy work.
The final impression I have got is that I should have gotten a Netgear or Linksys instead, as they are far more configurable and informative (Linux based...), but then I read bad things about the reliability of many Linksys and some Netgear models.
All in all I am going to keep it. It works most of the time despite the bugs, and its reported hardware reliability is somewhat more important to me than customizability.
I found important to at least upgrade the firmware to the
latest version, which as I write seems to be
V.A.1.08.03UK (Jul 8 2004 15:41:37)
because this allows configuring the disconnect-on-idle timeout
and the MTU for PPPoE, PPPoA and similar connection types.
But after some long frustration I decided to try and load as some other users have done the firmware for the equivalent 7804WBRA router from SMC, and what a change. Not only the user interface is much better organized, it is far more complete, and less buggy (it is still written in a way that to me seems very poor). Also virtually all the most annoying bugs with the Belkin firmware seem fixed in the SMC one.
Note: one annoying bug remains: while the DMZ
option works, the flood protection continues to be applied to the
internal interface, and even if it is disabled for the external
interface. The protection gets triggered by TCP connection rates
higher than 300 connections per minute, or 5 per second,
which is absurdly low, as just opening a page with half a dozen
images will trigger it. As with the Belkin version of the firmware
this can only be avoided by disabling the
firewall entirely, and then one loses the
DMZ. But there is a workaround: in the NAT section, under
Virtual Servers it is possible to forward all ports
1-65535) one-to-one under both TCP and UDP to a
given internal host, which is the same as DMZ for a single
external address. Since I have only one external address that
is fine for me. Perhaps full DMZ functionality can be obtained
by using the
Address Mapping feature in the same NAT
On top of all this the 7804WBRA manual is well written, complete, documenting all the options and expalining them tersely but correctly. I am going to buy SMC in the future rather than Belkin.
Note: a number of people have also discovered (1, 2) that Belkin have licensed a generic and fully featured ADSL firmware used also by SMC, and that Belking have removed from the main web configuration page the links to a number of really useful control pages, and here is a list of these:
Pretty good display quality, with many nice details: DVI input with DVI cable included, the power supply is builtin, the base is telescopic and contains an USB hub, narrow bezel, fairly good analog autosync, the base can be removed leaving a standard 100mm VESA mounting plate, for example for a telescopic arm, and it has very little to no trails/ghosting when playing games or movies.
Almost the only defect is that backlighting is slightly uneven, with the edges of the screen being brighter, but this is almost unnoticeable. A secondary issue is that the display is somewhat fuzzier on the VGA input; but it is supposed to be used in DVI mode. Those monitors that only have a VGA input tend to have better VGA input quality.
Good quality drive, a clone of the
Pioneer DVR-105 drive. Speed is not bad,
random access is a bit slow relative to some others.
This card is a quality USB2 plus IEEE1394 host adapter for the PCI bus.
The only big disadvantage is that it is somewhat expensive; but compared to two separate cards it is rather more convenient, and the features are rather better thought ought than other combo cards.
This is probably the best value midrange scanner around, and it has four large advantages:
I am not aware of any disadvantages.
There are three disadvantages, two large (one of them is not confirmed) and the other small:
This sounds rather appalling especially as it is not documented, except in this rather unofficial web site.
After 1 year and 1 month the printer broke down: "unknown error has occurred bring the computer to a service center".
Of course this was too expensive. I looked on the internet and found out that at least hundreds had the same error. The official epson site personel did not know anything, they say. i found out that the epson 580 and other epson printers are more or less programmed (EEPROM) to stop after a certain time.
This time depends on the number of times it has used ink to clean the head. In short, it probably wants to prevent that ink is leaking onto the desk, and therefore - btw thank you Epson - tells the printer to stop printing and so buy a new printer. It displays a message that nobody understands and at Epson they of course say they dont know what is wrong.
But luckily on internet they found out: http://www.fixyourowncomputer.com/
All in all I am fairly happy with it, but I think I should have gone for a Canon inkjet instead, as they have much lower ink costs even if they cost about 50% more to purchase. Another alternative would have been a slightly more expensive HP inkjet, like a 940c, which does not use chipped cartridges and they are easy to refill too.
The KG7 is one of the better Athlon motherboards, if what one is looking for is solidity rather than flashy features. Its main advantages are:
The main disadvantage is that it uses DDR-DRAM, which is twice as expensive as SDRAM. If you want to use SDRAM, the best bet may be one of the few Socket A motherboards that support both SDRAM and DDR-RAM.
Another advantage is that the bracket with the sockets for the second USB host adapter is bundled. Unfortunately the IR bracket is not included, and is hard to find.
The few recent Socket A motherboards that support ECC seem to be all based on AMD chipsets, and are mostly expensive dual processor ones. The ABIT KG7 is together with the EPOX 8K7A the only cheap uniprocessor socket A motherboard that supports ECC and has six PCI slots. The EPOX seems nice, but some power regulators are non switching, so I went for the ABIT. Another two uniprocessor socket A motherboards support ECC, the Gigabyte XXX and the DFI YYY, and the both trade stupidly a PCI slot for an AMR or CNR slot.
This is based on a Promise PDC20269 chipset. It is OK and well supported by recent Linux kernels. The ATA133 support is largely pointless, so one could buy the similar ATA100 board by Promise, which can be found for somewhat cheaper.
Very very good, amazing tagged queueing performance.
In brief: amazingly good at a relatively low price. But on reflection the PC-60 case is only a little more expensive and has a few nicer details, and is a slightly better value.
In brief: amazingly good even if a bit old styled. Fast enough for DVD and games.
In brief: amazingly good even if a bit old styled, and despite some slightly uneven backlight. Fast enough for DVD and games.
In brief: quite good, well supported under Linux ALSA (but they need software sharing). The mixer structure is simple enough, which of course help a bit with ALSA that by default gives a raw view of any card's mixer.
For some people they are the cheapest (and really cheap usually) way to get full optical and coaxial digital SPDIF/IEC958. The CMI 8738 based Trust 514DX has a full set of digital inputs and outputs, for example. But the gameport does not work (known defect, never fixed).
The sound quality is good for the price, even if it has limits at high frequencies. The CMI8738 chip is really 48kHz only, even if it can accept and produce 44.1kHz, but using 44.1kHz should not be done as it involves low quality resampling, sometimes twice.
The MS Windows drivers seem to me to be quite slow though; seems better under MS Windows 2000 than 98.
There are a lot of place that do hardware reviews, and here is a list of some of those I particularly like.