Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category

Zippy New Rig!

Monday, December 10th, 2007

Been wanting to upgrade my old-er AMD 3400+ system for about 2 years, and have been needing to for at least the last year. Running Linux doesn’t force the issue as much, except when Amarok was recalc’ing additions to my audio collection. But the Windows side was pretty sluggish. My last two main workstations were AMD CPUs and MSI motherboards. I can’t really fault those for any deficiencies, they work great (aside from some hitches with the MSI motherboard and the stupid, needs-DOS-installed, BIOS update methods), but I did want to try something different (i.e. intel multi-core and a motherboard other than MSI).

I’ve been building my own for at least the last 5 years and though it’s typically the best value, I’ve grown tired of supporting my own systems when things go wrong. I guess after supporting computers for a living for so long, I’ve started to value a good service contract. I was also torn between making the switch to a Mac. Ever since OSX and the new BSD-based Darwin I’ve been intrigued by Macs.

Every couple weeks over the last few years I’d go to dell.com or alienware (now also dell), cyberpowerpc.com, newegg.com, and apple.com and spec out a system with a service contract and the type of specs I’d like (a fast processor, but not the fastest, and tons of RAM). I think of the ones I just mentiond with support contract, cyberpowerpc was the best deal going. A guy I work with loves those guys and says he’s had good experiences with them. I still found their prices on the high side, and I’d look at their components and go to newegg and spec the individual parts out and would always come out ahead at newegg. But that left the problem of building/supporting it myself.

Macs remain just too expensive to get the specs I want. A slick OS that integrates well with the hardware isn’t worth the expensive hardware costs. I considered an iMac 24″ and a Mac Pro. The iMac seems cool, but I don’t like how limiting it can be to upgrade with drives and add on cards in a slimline/form factor system like that. Also, when I spec’ed them out with all the stuff I wanted, like more RAM and the Apple Care warranty, they were always in the $1900. range. Add $1000. to that for the Mac Pro version. Sorry, but no thanks. And I’ve been hearing enough bad things about Leopard (how it’s the next Vista) to make me wary. Not to mention the fact that my experience with iTunes (that so many people — who must just not know better — revere so highly) has been much less than satisfactory. So a Mac was out.

In the end I decided that building my own was the best bet. After spec’ing out a Dell XPS with 4 GB RAM and a single 320 GB hard drive (with either an Intel Core2 duo or Core2 quad) and having it come out to around $1400. or more every time, regardless of any discounts I could find on dealnews.com or through my employer who has a relationship with Dell. I went to Newegg and spec’ed one out that is WAY better. Each part is cherry picked (unlike the Dell, which doesn’t allow you much choice in RAM, PSU, Case, hard drive, burner, etc.), the system is faster than the XP and it cost under $1200. after all the MIRs (which suck, but at least you get something back after jumping through the stupid hoops).

Here are the specs:

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Kentsfield 2.4GHz
  • Abit IP35 Pro Motherboard
  • G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
  • 2 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3500320AS 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drives, 5 year warranty (yep, 1000GB! w00h00!)
  • Thermaltake W0116RU 750W Power Supply
  • EVGA 256-P2-N751-TR GeForce 8600GT 256MB 128-bit GDDR3 PCI Express x16 SLI Video Card
  • ASUS 20X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA Model DRW-2014L1T
  • Antec Nine Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower

I am re-using my 10K RPM WD Raptor drives for the system drives. (My one regret about this system is not buying 2 new 150GB raptors for the system drives, since my old ones are 36GB & 72GB and though fast are pretty small — and noisy after 3 years of daily use!)

It’s not the fastest system out there, but a huge upgrade from what I’ve been running for over 3 years now. I am never willing to pay for the “Extreme” processors that are out. It’s not worth the extra $500 just to have a few extra Mhz. and a slightly faster FSB.

The least deluxe part is the graphics card (I’m still gun shy after frying 2 $300-$400 video cards in my last system after having them for not very long — must have been a power surge or something), which I plan to upgrade once I get some power conditioning in my house.

Anyway, finally got the dual boot between Vista Ultimate & Ubuntu 7.10 64-bit happening and everything I’m doing is a breeze! iTunes still sucks balls though, what a shitty media manager it is! (see my comments below, which have some new additions coming) I’m thinking I’m going to stop using it altogether and just find another way to keep my iPod sync’ed up. Everything else is just aces though. Makes using a PC fun again.

O yeah, and newegg had the stuff I ordered on Sunday night at my doorstep by Thursday. That’s another nice advantage you don’t get from most builders…quick turnaround.

New iPod, Old Gripes

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

I had been anticipating the arrival of the 80GB iPod for some time. My 20GB from the previous generation had been pretty quickly obsolesced by my library of music. It was a drag to have to pick and choose so much to get as broad a selection of music as I wanted in a portable device. It’s not about running out of stuff to listen to (that would be nearly impossible) but it is about having as large a pool of music to draw from as possible. Anyway, that problem is currently more than solved by the 300% increase in size with this new iPod. I can’t believe how much music I can fit on this thing. It’s turning into one rockin’ collection of stuff to carry around! Bonus for the much nicer display on these newer video models (could be the same as the previous videos, actually). It’s definitely easier on the eyes. The size seems about the same as my old 20. And kudos for letting the older gen’s sync cables work with this one.
I do have a number of gripes though. These have probably already been beaten to death elsewhere.

  1. iTunes keeps crashing when I’m adding tracks/adding music from my samba share. It’s not a networking issue b/c I have a full 100Mbp/s LAN at my disposal and this is about the only traffic on that LAN. I think it might be choking on some of the .nfo, or .txt, or .m3u, or .sfv, or .jpg, or .gif files that have found their way into my collection. Either way it’s as annoying as shit b/c there are huge collections of music I want to move en masse and the friggin’ thing keeps dying on me, which causes me to have to start over. And yes, I have the newest version of iTunes 7, which is supposed to have fixed all the initial problems with iTunes 7 and Windows XP.
  2. The sync is incredibly slow. Is it still USB 1.0? It feels like it. Syncing ~65GB of music looks like it will take several hours. I’ll let you know when I’m done. I’ve already added another ~10GB of music since I started syncing (thankfully I can still add while syncing, otherwise I’d be pissed).
  3. You still can’t sync an iPod full of music to a clean computer (one that doesn’t already have those files on it). I know they did that to avoid DRM issues. But it’s total bullshit. Luckily you can do it by going through Windows explorer or if you sync up with Linux/Rhythmbox, but you have to rely on really good tagging to re-organize things. I’m not lucky enough to have very good tagging across all my digital music, so it’s pretty useless to me. Wouldn’t it also be nice if the unit asked you about songs that had changed either on the iPod or in your repository and gave you a choice of what to do? For instance, sync iPod’s changed files to the repository or vice versa.
  4. The limited filetype support. Why no FLAC? I think OGG is now supported, but I’ve not verified. But all those shitty WMA, M4A formats still aren’t supported without conversion. Just support the file types where you can, or allow us to download separate codecs to support them. Fer crissake you can listen to all of them on Linux, why not in iTunes?
  5. It would be nice if 80GB meant 81920MB instead of 80,000MB. I think Apple would be a lot cooler if they would not play silly marketing games like hiding behind the whole “it’s legal to call 80000MB 80GB” thing. It sucks to get stiffed out of well over 2GB of storage. Actually, after formatting it’s more like well over 6GB short of the supposed 80GB of the device.
  6. It’s getting increasingly harder to navigate a single screen with 8000+ songs on it. I manage fairly well, but I often feel like I’m fighting against the interface (occasional slow loading that locks up the scroll bar, etc.). It could be time to improve the layout.
  7. It’s not easy to determine where songs have changed on your source repository when scrolling through the iTunes screen. You should be able to sort by items no longer found. Also, you should be able to “get info” and find out where the track was originally, so that you’ll be better able to find it if you renamed the folder (or just changed the id3 tags). Currently I’m pretty sure there’s no stored data about a track once it’s been changed or moved, only if it’s still accessible in its original location.
  8. Why no visible status/progress bar for syncing? It would be nice to know if a sync will take 10 seconds or 2 hours.

Despite these gripes, it’s a pretty bitchen little unit. I got an iSkin cover for it which is also pretty nice (except the lock/hold button is kinda’ hard to manipulate from under the rubber). I upgraded to some cheapish Sennheiser earbuds (hope they’re better –and more comfortable– than the stock jobbies). I also paid for an extra year of warranty with Apple care. This could be a ripoff, but I wanted to be covered in case this thing failed in a major way within the next 2 years, instead of just being covered for a single year. I’m pretty psyched to have a vast catalog of music to carry around with me wherever I go. Now if I can get a good docking app for my car stereo I think I’d be in hog heaven.

Update 12/2007:

A couple of my above gripes have been improved some, I will try to amend the original text with comments.

New ones are:

  • sorting duplicates,why can’t it be done by CRC, then by file size, then by similarity in length in order to make it easier to determine between things like remixes and live versions (that are typically longer than the studio version). Also, sorting jazz/fusion music by filename alone is silly since many people play standards, so according to iTunes every version is a dupe, which is seldom the case
  • Syncing over a 100Mbp/s LAN is still hurtin!
  • iTunes is the only thing that locks up pretty hard on my newly built quad-core system with 4GB of RAM. That’s utter bullshit! Giving it a higher priority in the process table doesn’t seem to help it process files any faster, apparently. Thus adding that 80gb of music (pardon me, 74 after formatting) is still an all day affair. BS!