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Ninjalane Staff Blogs

Computex 2013 Pre-Show - What to do

Published: Friday, May 31, 2013 - By: Redmax

For the first time in years I landed in Taipei well before the start of Computex. Normally I fly out such that I land the Monday before the show starts so I can get a good night's rest and hit the show floor bright and early. For many years this approach has worked out fine except for the failed travel of '12 where an early delay at SFO delayed all flights into that airport, so much in fact that they canceled mine making it impossible to make my EVA connection there. That one event not only cost me a bunch of money and delayed my arrival and put me behind schedule. Many more things ensued making the trip a bust in my eyes but, I did get some special treatment so it wasn't all bad.

This year is different, instead of flying into SFO I changed my travel arraignments to connect thru SEA-TAC. Given flight path and schedule that means I'll be on a later flight and also be in the air an hour less. Since Taiwan isn't a huge destination with Seattle travelers the plane is never full and only run a few days a week. In fact, the majority of people on my flight actually where connecting to different designations such as Hong Kong.

Long story short (too late) I'm in Taipei 3 days early.
So, what do you do in Taiwan the weekend before a major trade show?

When I figure it out I'll let you know.

The thing is, most of my mfg contacts are busy making sure their booths are setup correctly, building show systems and rushing to get things done so, it isn't a good idea to bother them. I could go sightseeing as there are plenty of things to do in Taipei but having been here "a few times" I have seen the major stuff and while I like urban hiking the 90+ degree weather and excess humidity can make that more of a chore than you would imagine.

No, I think I'll try to do is accomplish a few trivial challenges. My first challenge will be to obtain a supply of Pepsi. Several years ago I blogged about how you couldn't find Pepsi anywhere in Taipei (at least at the common stores) and it wasn't until a year later that I discovered Family Mart to be a good supplier. Once you found the nearest store it was an easy hike to Pepsi bliss. This knowledge served me well for several years but, Taiwan has failed me again and Family Mart is no longer a place of Pepsi.



So, that is my first challenge. Will I succeed? I sure hope so.

My next challenge will be to get a local Taiwan phone number that allows talk, text and data. I know they are easy to get, the challenge will be to find out where and if a DNA sample is required.

The second challenge will be easier than the first, a quick Google search proves that you can get prepaid cards in Taiwan rather easy.

FYI

On June 3rd (a day before Computex) there is an overclocking competition hosted by Corsair with over 20k USD in prizes going to the winner. The event isn't like a MOA event given the selection of factory sponsored Pro OC'ers on the schedule but it should be a great start to Computex and launch of Haswell.

Look for coverage of this event unless Jetlag gets the better of me.



Home Server Upgrade - Trials of putting a server together

Published: Sunday, March 03, 2013 - By: Redmax

The one thing about a server on your personal network is that it doesn't really need to do much. In fact, most users can get away with using a simple NAS box while others, like me, might need a full system. The problem comes when it's time for an upgrade. In my case I recently upgraded my Linux box with some new hardware coupled with a fresh install of Slackware 14 x64. It took a couple days to get everything running smooth and fully expect to see 365+ days of uptime before I need to pull up the console again.

I am somewhat of a server snob in the boxes I build, not so much that you need server class gear or need to go bat shit crazy on what goes into the machine but rather putting a good system together that makes sense and won't break the bank in the process. This is a balance I have been striving for ever since I put my first one together some 15 years ago. My first server was a humble box running an AMD K6-2, small ATA HDD, minimal ram and two 10/100 Network cards. People in the know ill realize I was building a network router and firewall machine with the intent to finally allow more than one computer to use my recently acquired cable modem broadband. You see back then they charged you for extra IP's and the cable modem box only came with a single RJ45. This box solved that problem and does more than what a simple hardware router could do.

The server worked great and would sit there routing packets and protecting me from casual hackers looking to pilfer my pr0n collection. I had also started getting in the habit of using that server to host a small external website so I could transfer files from home to work, and back again. Sadly as the files started stacking up the storage quickly went away and it was time for an upgrade.

Servers are much like your standard desktop but are typically designed to run 24/7/365 and, depending on their job, may need to maintain a certain degree of uptime in the event of a hardware failure. For this is why server machines often cost considerably more than your standard desktop. Things like redundant power supplies, SAS drives, RAID, and fault tolerant memory come with a price premium that many home and small business users cannot afford. Of course the downside is considerable downtime and increased chance of data loss in the event that something does go wrong. These days the risk of that is low, especially if you are smart during the planning stages but there is still a risk.

After the K6-2 server I started to build more elaborate systems that, aside from the OS, never really cost me that much. I would save costs by using old hardware and deprecated gear from the test bench. For instance I ran a dual P2 450Mhz machine for several years which was a re-purposed machine I built to do 3DStudio Max during my college days. The dual machine ran like a champ and started life running Slackware Linux and filtered packets day and night until I transferred the hardware over to become my first development server running Server 2000.

With the new box I started experimenting with RAID arrays and at one point had 6 drives running a RAID 0 with almost 1TB of storage. (ohhhhhh 1TB, it was mystical back then). The thing with RAID 0 is that, on a desktop it is great but your data is never safe unless you do regular backups and even then you can lose stuff. A good way to guard against this is to use a RAID 1 to mirror your physical drives and with a software RAID controller this can work quite well. RAID 5 will give you more storage space provide you have a proper RAID card and by proper I mean one with an onboard processor and memory to calculate the parity information. You can do RAID 5 in software but parity is calculated by the processor and limited by everything north of your hard drive.

In short it is damn slow.

This weekend (as of this writing) I decided to upgrade my development server with the intent to solve several problems. The first was heat. The previous dev box was a Pentium D 830 (dual core running 3.0Ghz) on a Foxconn 975X7AB motherboard with 2GB of ram (Across four sticks). I'm running a three drive RAID 5 on a Promise Supertrak controller and have a fourth drive allocated for the OS. When the system was idle it would pull around 160w from my UPS and dumped a good amount of heat into my room. My intent was to stifle this excess heat and give the hardware a nice refresh.

Hardware wise I have a few old Sandy Bridge processors lying around and planed to do a simple motherboard swap and call it a day. Unfortunately my hardware had a different plan. First of let's just say my extra Sandys are, well, "special" and don't like running on any of the newer motherboards. Because of this I was limited to using an old Foxconn P67 B2 board. This was a review board I never sent back during the recall and considering my Supertrak would handle storage the chipset flaw was a non-issue.

The thing I didn't consider was if my RAID card was compatible with the motherboard and while it should have worked without fail it didn't. The system would power on and immediately power off rendering my effort useless. At this point it was a mad scramble to find a replacement motherboard from my stash that would not only work with my processor but also accept the RAID card. My ASUS P67 Sabertooth recognized the processor and appeared to work so I went thru the motion of getting that board setup. When it came to start the server I would get past the initial POST and then promptly fail when trying to access the BIOS or loading the OS. Not a driver issue, but one with the processor in general..

All was not lost since I have plenty of hardware lying around right? Well, here is the funny thing about enthusiast level hardware, it is powerful, it's expensive, and generally runs hot. For instance I'm looking at two Nehalem Core i7 920's right now that would have been perfect but a 130w TDP was too much for this server build. In the end I decided to just put the old Foxconn 975 back into the server and simply replaced the Pentium D with a Q6600 and match that with 4GB of Muskin DDR2 memory.

Now here is the fun part. After I got the server up and running again I noticed that by simply changing the processor my power draw dropped 70w at the UPS and the system is no longer dumping hot air into my room. Yes there is still some heat but we are talking a 30 degree drop in exhaust temp and an average processor temp of 26c.

All in all I think that is a pretty good upgrade with a 0 cost footprint to me.

For reference my current server build is below followed by the ideal build I would have put together provided I was going to spend some money.

Current
Processor: Core 2 Quad Q6600
Memory: 4GB Muskin DDR2
Motherboard: Foxconn 975X7AB-8EKRS2H
Drives: 3x 1.5TB Seagate, 1x 36GB Raptor, 1x 500GB Seagate
RAID: Promise SuperTrak EX8350
PSU: beQuiet Dark 550W
Video: Visiontek 2400Pro
Case: Chenbro SR105 with Hot-Swap RAID
UPS: APC 1300

What I would have built
Processor Core i3-2120
Memory: 16GB GSKill RIpjaws X F3-1600C9D-16GXM
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H
Drives: (same as above)
RAID: LSI MegaRAID SATA/SAS 9260-4i
PSU: (same as above)
Video: Onboard
Case: (same as above)
UPS: (same as above)

Of course there are places to upgrade. I could go with SAS drives since they are faster and handle multi access better and I could put a bigger PSU in there. Thing is you don't need more than 550w for this build and right now I don't need more than 3TB. Besides, upgrading storage is simple as removing a 1.5TB drive and replacing it with something larger, wait for it to rebuild and do the next one. Then go into the array manager and say "expand". I could also add a fourth drive to the mix and do the same thing.



CES Dialog 2013 - Day 3 Getting Down to the Meetings

Published: Thursday, January 10, 2013 - By: Redmax

The difficult thing about CES meetings is that you have to schedule your time wisely and make sure everyone you want to see is in the same location. I know of some editors who pack in back to back meetings, starting early and ending late. If you schedule things properly this can work but the slightest traffic issue or a long winded marketing person can easily throw your schedule off. Day three was a dedicated hotel day for me and luckily everyone was either in the Venetian or Palazzo. The two hotels are connected but it is still a 10 minute walk between the towers.

On the bright side, at least I didn't need a taxi.

Gigabyte

My first stop was with my friends at Gigabyte. Due to the lull between product releases there wasn't much on display however they were showing a joint project with Intel that aims to standardize the AIO computer system. The motherboards are based on the Mini ITX form factor but offer a thinner profile so they will fit behind the touch screen panel.




There are already several companies offering bare bones chassis designs, Combine that with a standard motherboard design and you have the makings of your very own DIY AIO computer system complete with touch screen and all the power you will need from the latest LGA 1155 processor of your choice.



All of the motherboards on display where current generation. The next generation of motherboards will feature a similar segmentation between the overclocker and gaming brands with a few new features being added to the Ultra Durable product offering.

Antec

My next stop was to meet with Antec and like other companies in this segment they have started branching out into growth areas to get away from the stable, yet flat, desktop PC market. Most of their new products are focused on the mobile space including personal audio over Bluetooth.



My interest is still in their chassis designs and they had a couple of revised models on display that featured extra room behind the motherboard tray and even improved hinges so the door will swing open completely.

Adata

For many years Adata has not actively marketed their products in the US but with 2013 that will change. They have re-established their marketing offices and will begin to sell a select number of products including this multi function device called the AE400.



This little box contains a 5000mAh battery for charging your smartphone of tablet, It will act as a wireless hotspot so you can share mobile internet access and allows you to store and retrieve smart card data wirelessly with the aid of their mobile applications.



Desktop memory might be boring to some but you cannot deny the performance gains from high performance modules. For the first time ever Adata will be offering 2600Mhz DDR3 modules for the gaming and enthusiast space. The timings aren't all that great but the speed and price should be right in line with the competitors.

CyberpowerPC

My last stop was to meet with CyberpowerPC and see what they have planned for 2013. As you can imagine they will be continuing their tradition of building custom PCs but plan to add a small form factor gaming PC and a buildable AIO design.



Their high-end systems still remain extremely popular and much to my surprise they actually sell quite a few on a monthly basis. The system pictured here is fully watercooled using the Core i7 3970 LGA 2011 processor and dual nVidia GTX 680 graphics cards.



They even offer self branded watercooling parts including this bay res with two D5 pumps running in series. Given how far the water has to travel you need a good head on the pump to make it efficient and this setup will do that for you.

That concludes the Day 3 wanderings. Stay tuned, the 4th and final day quickly approaches.



CES Dialog 2013 - Day 2 The First Official Day

Published: Wednesday, January 09, 2013 - By: Redmax

Not to sound like a broken record but the first day of any trade show is usually quite crazy. Most of the time the first day is simply marked by excessive lines and delay after delay due to crowds and people moving around to make their meeting but, none of that actually happened to me. In fact you can tell attendance is down this year despite the number of exhibits going up. (Of course not counting the side show of non CES vendors)

I actually booked the first day of CES to be my free day so I could enjoy the trade show and try to cover as much ground as I could. My first two stops were in the North Hall and Central Halls to check out the car audio stuff and what the large companies like LG, Sony, Intel and Samsung were up to. Sadly no Microsoft this year but we won't hold that against them given the current state of Windows 8. Overall the exhibits seem to be less lavish this year and more focused on what technology they are trying to push.

The final stop was in the South Halls which is historically where all of the smaller manufactures set up shop and also where you'll find PC hardware, assuming they opted for a booth. During my scans I only PC vendor I saw was InWin on the South Hall floor making them the loner this year.

Sennheiser

One cool thing I saw in my travels was this pair of surround sound gaming headphones from Sennheiser which feature 7.1 channel Dolby sound and are quite light considering. Frequency response is pretty good at 15-28,000Hz (understatement) with a 112dB sensitivity.



I did try them on and despite the strange shape they were quite comfortable and easy to operate. It is really difficult to demo headphones on a noisy show floor but the sound isolation worked quite well and at least gave the illusion of stereo sound.

Asustor

After my South Hall adventures I took on some official meetings with the first being with Asustor. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Asustor they are the storage division of Asus tasked with creating the best NAS appliance you can buy. From what I have seen they are doing a pretty good job.

From a hardware standpoint the Asustor NAS devices are using a dual core Atom processor with a spec list that reads like your standard netbook with one exception, HDMI. Yep with the addition of a single HDMI you have transformed a simple network attached storage device into a full on media server that is accessible everywhere.



The entry level product is a two drive NAS designed for the home and small office. It supports all of the standard NAS features including RAID level arrays, sync and file permissions but to really expand the functionality you need the ability to install programs and something more than what comes with the NAS device.

To accommodate this Asustor has built an online application store that allows you to install any supported application on the fly.



Asustor has several different models with the largest desktop model featuring eight drives while this 2U rackmount model supports up to nine drives and even comes with the same HDMI port found on the desktop models.

Enermax

The final stop for the day was with Enermax. Now before you scoff and close your browser you should know that while some of the old Enermax is still present the new Enermax has some really interesting things to show.

They have a wide selection of custom LED fans and some of the high end models are quite special since they are PWM controlled but also feature speed limiting switches to prevent the fan from spinning above a certain RPM. Personally I feel this is how speed control should be.



In case you were wondering this isn't a Silverstone fan (as far as I can tell) but it does come with the vertical fins for easy air direction.

Most of the high end fans use a magnetic bearing system with an added side benefit that allows you to pop the centers for easy cleaning. With the fan blades removed you can easily see the ring of LED lights responsible for the crazy light show.



Enermax also has a pretty good line-up of cases planned for 2013 including this white number. The layout is pretty typical with seven expansion slots and removable HDD cages.



The case also features a HDD dock at the top of the case but is limited to only a few key fan positions.

That pretty much concludes the Day 2 wanderings. Day 3 should be interesting so stay tuned.



CES Dialog 2013 - Day 1 The Calm Before the Storm

Published: Monday, January 07, 2013 - By: Redmax

CES 2013 starts January 8th 2013 but as you can imagine there are many pre-show activities including the CES Unveiled show and a few official press conferences. CES Unveiled is hit or miss for a hardware reviewer sometimes there is a "wow" moment while other times you might enjoy glad handling the high-rollers and playing a little side game I like to call "Spot Patrick Norton". (I was up to three before my night there was done.)

As I have mentioned before in the realm of computer hardware review there is very little to look forward to at CES. Most of the convention is focused on consumer electronics and desktop computers long disbanded from that train. As luck would have it there is a little side show "we" can attend, provided you don't mind surfin' the hotels.

Thermaltake

My first stop was with Thermaltake who had a few new products on display including this fancy new gaming mouse featuring a wider stance and XBOX centric button designs. In terms of shape this mouse resembles the Logitech MX series and fits nicely regardless if you "claw" your mice or prefer the hand "rest" method.



The best part of this mouse is the placement of the buttons. In the heat of battle you might find it difficult to reach the blue one but that is the price you pay for a mouse you can pick up and move without hitting any buttons accidentally.

Watercooling is still a big part of the enthusiast world and with CES 2013 Thermaltake launches the Water 3.0. These are still asetek branded coolers but feature a thinner radiator and tuned pump for higher flow. I can't wait to see if the updates really do any good or just seem to blow hot water.



Thermaltake Big Water has been the back alley stable for Thermaltake since the beginning and refuses to simply go away. The Big Water is back and features a few updates to the pump and radiator assembly. Given the changes it should bridge the gap between self contained watercooling units and full blown DIY monsters quite nicely.



Personally I am glad to see that Big Water is still in the product line up but hate watching the company neglect it so.

Be Quiet

My next stop was with a German company I met with at Computex, Be Quiet. For many years Be Quiet has been the top cooling brand in Germany and they have been pushing hard to get their products sold around the world, including in the US.



CES 2013 marks the beginning of their US campaign with the promise that you can buy the high-end Dark series at all of the major retailers in February. I recently reviewed the Dark Rock 2 and found it to be quite efficient within its TDP range with sound levels that rival most passive coolers.



One of the coolers that will be available in the US is a top down tower featuring the same 120mm fan found on the Dark Rock but with four large diameter heatpipes instead of six and no black nickel plating. The performance should be decent with the added benefit that your motherboard components will get a little airflow too.

Look for the Be Quiet products sometime in February, their entire lineup will consist of the two aircoolers seen here, two sizes of Dark fans (120mm and 140mm) and the entire range of PSUs up to 1200w.

MSI

Knowing there won't be any new chipsets or GPUs released any time soon you may be wondering what is MSI doing about it?

In a word, Nothing. Well, that might not be entirely true. There are a few product refreshes in the works and MSI does have one of the cheapest Thunderbolt motherboards you can buy but the bottom line is, there isn't much much new planned in the MSI camp.

They are happy to say that the GTX 680 Lightning won a CES Innovation award. I had to laugh a little since it would seem that while the 680 Lightning is a great card with some great technology the reason for producing it has diminished to the point where they are no longer pushing it to enthusiasts.

Of course there are ways around the nVidia limitations but still without the mfg support there is very little to get excited about.



On a happier note the mPower line of motherboards are hard to keep in stock due to the high sales and this MiniITX Trinity motherboard is too cute for words.



MSI is planning a few product refreshes in 2013 that should be available around second quarter including a couple of gamer focused motherboards with a revised color scheme and updated components. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.



On an unrelated note I really need to get a set of this Avexir memory, the lighting effects are quite memorizing.

That wraps up the mini tour around the CES sideshow. The plan is to hit the LVCC tomorrow and eventually make it over to visit with Asus at the end of the day, Wish me luck!



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