Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Patriot microSDHC

Friday, June 29th, 2012

I’ve had various microSDHC cards from a handful of different vendors, as the prices on these plummet I’ve started to become more particular about the brand than the cost – I’m willing to spend a few dollars if I know I’ll get good service if I need it. In the past I’ve written about an ADATA microSDHC card and my positive experience with their RMA department. I’ve also had the occasion to return RAM to Kingston which was a very slick experience.

While the warranty on the ADATA card, and the cost at the time were clear winners – the ability for the card to sustain transfer performance on large files (movies) didn’t hold up to the rating claim of the card. It wasn’t terribly far off, but as the price of other brands came down I’ve tended to shy away from ADATA.

I’ve had good success with Kingston and that’s my go-to brand for memory at the moment, but Patriot is a very strong second. Recently my 16GB microSDHC card in my phone failed. The symptoms started with loss of files, then inability to recognize the card at all. As I poked at the bad card, I could intermittently format and write some data to it, but things were immediately corrupted or unreadable shortly after.

The RMA process was relatively straight forward. The website will direct you to contact support, who will reply via email and provide you a link to the RMA form with a case number. It was nice this was no hassle to get an RMA sorted out. The next step after the form is to send the bad card back. They provided this somewhat generic check list:

  1. Product(s) must be securely packaged with the RMA number clearly displayed on the outside of the package.
  2. If you have a kit, it is required to send in the complete kit to ensure compatibility.
  3. A copy of this email confirmation with the RMA number must be included with the package.
  4. Customers are responsible for paying the shipping charges to send the defective product(s) to Patriot Memory.
  5. Patriot memory does not require but recommend customers to ship their product(s) with a carrier that provides package tracking and insurance for the price of the product to prevent shipping issues.
  6. Patriot Memory is not liable for item(s) lost or damaged during transit.
  7. Do Not Send Item in Regular Envelope. Product is prone to be lost in transit.
  8. Any returned product(s) without clearly marked RMA number on the outside of the package will be refused and returned back to sender.

This was a bit of a bummer. A new 16Gb card is under $1 a Gb (including tax), tracking a package to the USA easily exceeds that cost. So I compromised and mailed it in a padded envelope with no tracking, the cost to me was $2.10.

The timeline on my RMA was as follows:

  • Friday May 4th, submit support ticket
  • Monday May 7th, receive reply from support redirecting me to RMA with case number
  • Monday Math 7th, submit RMA request online
  • Tuesday May 8th, receive RMA number and instructions on mailing in bad card (see list above)
  • Thursday May 24th, finally get bad card into postal system back to Patriot
  • Tuesday June 5th, request status update from Patriot
  • Tuesday June 5th, informed card has not arrived at Patriot
  • Tuesday June 7th, Patriot mails new card back to me
  • Wednesday June 27th, finally receive new card

I really shouldn’t have had that huge delay between getting a RMA number and getting the card into the mail. The RMA is only valid for a 30 day window, I suspect I was pretty close to the cut off line or they use the post date – either way I was a little bit lucky. Beyond having a little bit of cross-border mail delay, this was a pretty smooth warranty request. I’ll buy Patriot again.

Review: Kobo Wifi

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

A little while back I picked up a Kobo Wifi e-Reader for $40 +tax with free shipping thanks to RedFlagDeals. I really didn’t need yet another gadget, but at this price point it was far too tempting. The Kobo refurbished page is still up, but lists as out of stock currently.

The device came with version 1.7 of the firmware installed, as soon as I connected it to my wifi network it found an update to 1.9. I stalled on doing the update as I wanted to experience it in the out of the box state for a bit. Initially I’d say I felt it was hard on the battery, no where near the 2 weeks / 10,000 page turns per charge they claim. I also noticed it was waking itself up from sleep mode regularly.

Updating the firmware over wifi was easy, once you struggled past the painful text entry of your wifi network password. Moving to 1.9 I noticed an improved wifi indicator along with the expected improvements. It was still waking itself up which turned out to be a simple matter of fixing the setting: Menu > Settings > General, and change the “Download Daily” flag to ‘No’. Battery life appears to be improving as I use the device, I can now get through several hundred pages across multiple days on a single charge, I suspect the refurbished unit still has the original battery.

The screen is really quite amazing, quite comparable to reading a printed page. Lacking a light is a bit of a bummer for me as I tend to read in bed, but I’ve got a flashlight app on my phone that I often use for reading in the dark. Comparing this e-Reader to a book is more accurate than trying to compare it to a tablet, it is very much a single purpose device. The screen size is roughly paperback sized (6″ diagonal) and while the device itself has a generous border it’s still easy to hold in one hand (7.2″ x 4.7″). There are a few font choices and sizes, I find medium to work well for me in contrast to other readers where I’ve tended to pick smaller than average font sizes. The flip-side of this may be that for people who want very large print, this may not go big enough.

I was particularly impressed with the weight. The specification page claims 221g (7.8oz), I weighed mine and it came in at only 196g. Compare this to my Samsung Galaxy S phone at 118g, or the iPad 2 at 600g. Having a nice light reading device makes it easier to have long reading sessions.

I’ve also used the Kobo app on Android, the reading experience is quite different. Additionally the app version appears to have features that the Kobo Wifi does not, this isn’t a deal breaker but it seems odd that they didn’t try to incorporate the Reading Life features in, or at minimum contribute to the statistics of books read, etc. (The Kobo Touch does have Reading Life) One thing the Kobo Wifi supports that the app doesn’t is PDF files, again odd they didn’t aim to provide a seamless experience across readers. One other gripe I have about the software is that while it supports both date and time, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get the time while reading – I really wish they had made it visible on the menu.

The E-Ink screen is a bit slow to refresh, it takes a bit longer than the time it takes to move your eyes from the bottom of the page to the top to start reading again. I’m a fairly fast reader so it may be more noticeable to me, but it isn’t so slow that I won’t use it to read.

I do find the choice of button layout to be poor. Pictured above is my primary method of holding it. I really wish they had put page turn buttons on the side of the device (when I read on my phone, I use the volume up/down buttons for page turning and find this much more convenient). The four buttons on the side seem poorly thought out too, I’ll point out that I’d never used the back button until just now and it didn’t do what I expected.

You can use the shop button (once you’ve configured your wifi network) to synchronize your Kobo library or purchase books. Adding books manually is simple: plug the Kobo Wifi into your PC using the mini-USB cable, you’ll be given a choice to manage library or just keep reading (while charging). Choose mange library and it will appears as a USB drive, now drag and drop stuff. A nice feature is the USB drive contains the Windows/Mac software you can use to manage the books on the device. As I mentioned previously, PDF files are supported when added manually.

In general eBooks don’t take up a lot of space, so the internal memory will be plenty for most. Those that want to have a lot of books on hand can add a SDCard for additional storage.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the value for money. It may be a little dated, and missing some of the newer features but it does let you read eBooks in full sunlight or any well lit room.

Review: OCZ Vertex 3 120G SSD

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

I’m not entirely certain which event triggered my gear lust for a solid state drive (SSD), it was probably a mix of Jeff Atwood’s post, TechReport’s storage section, and the falling prices resulting in smaller SSDs down below the $100 price point. Whatever it was, I couldn’t really shake the idea of having a SSD in my work laptop – so I decided to get one.

Initially I had thought that a 60G-64G drive would fit the bill, being under the $100 price point and just big enough to hold the OS plus my Lotus Notes mail installation. After reviewing benchmarks, and reviews I decided to focus on the 120G size – in part due to a general recommendation that the 60G size is a bit small for most, and the benchmark numbers on the 120G are a bit better. The price was higher, but still within a very reasonable budget as SSDs are approaching $1 a Gig. The TechReport comparison of 120G-128G size helped me narrow my choice down to the OCZ Vertex 3.

While the Vertex 3 has been on the market a year, it still ranks as one of the fastest drives available. There were some issues with the SandForce SF-2881 controller, but firmware 2.15 is reported to be solid.

My laptop was running a 500G SATA2 Toshiba drive, configured as a single large partition running Windows 7. I had no interest in re-installing from scratch so my approach was to clone the working system onto the smaller drive. There are likely plenty of ways to do this, I was able to easily find a blog post describing how to do it – I roughly followed those steps but will document exactly what I did here.

Step 1) Reduce the partition on the big hard drive to be a bit less than the formatted capacity of the SSD. Initially after reading a bit I was hesitant to use GParted to do this as it seemed some folks had had problems with Windows 7 and GParted. Windows 7 also has a built in partition resize capability.

I ran into several issues trying to use the built in Windows 7 functionality. First up was some unmovable files causing issues. Even after turning off virtual memory and system restore, I still had issues. The Event Viewer was a help in identifying Chrome as holding onto some unmovable files, then I hit what I believe was an issue with NTFS Metafiles being unmovable and blocking my ability to shrink the partition smaller than 245G. At this point I threw my hands in the air and ran GParted from an Ubuntu Live USB key.

GParted ran to completion, but oddly gave me an error indicating something was wrong – but I couldn’t spot anything actually wrong. [Normally GParted should not give an error] The damage was done so I just rebooted and let Windows perform the necessary chkdsk activity. Things were fine, so either I mis-read that there was an error or it was something that was recoverable. Either way I was now happily running with a 100G partition.

Step 2) Use Clonezilla‘s “savepart” option to capture an image of the partition. Since I had a 500G drive which now had lots of empty space after the 100G system partition, I created a 2nd volume to store the captured image to. You can use a second USB mounted drive, or any number of other options including ssh with Clonezilla to store your image.

I will comment that Clonezilla is not for the timid, the user interface appear very complex and requires some careful reading to make sure you’re doing what you think you’re doing. Youtube has a number of walk throughs. For the 100G partition it took about 1:35 to backup.

Above you see the SSD attached to the ultra slim sled that the laptop hard disk was in, this is a very slim metal sleeve with a pull tab and some rubber bumpers. It fit nicely into my W520.

Step 3) Swap the drives. If you have a password on the drive, it’s a good idea to disable before removing it as USB enclosures and passworded drives don’t mix well. Install the new SSD, and place the existing drive into a USB enclosure. Boot the laptop into Ubuntu Live again and partition the new SSD drive, make sure to tag the new partition as with the ‘boot’ flag.

Step 4) Restore the image you saved with Clonezilla’s “restore part” option. In this case I was restoring from the 2nd partition on the original hard drive that is now mounted as a USB volume. Clonezilla warns you twice when restoring a partition to validate you’ve got the correct destination, a nice paranoid touch.

The restore ran nearly 3x faster taking about 37 minutes.

Step 5) Boot into windows, chkdsk may have run again but with the SSD it seemed to take no time at all. You might want to visit the OCZ site and grab the toolbox utility to validate you’ve got the latest firmware, I did this to verify I had 2.15.

Performance

After I did the clone, I ran some boot time tests on the hard drive. I tested immediately after I had completed step 5 with the SSD. For work I need Lotus Notes up and running to access my calendar etc, so that was a logical pattern to benchmark – how long to get back to key information? I used a stop watch, and the times include the time I spent typing in the two passwords and navigating to the icon to launch Notes. It’s not terribly scientific, but I think the results still speak for themselves.

Disk test 1 Disk test 2 Disk test 3 SSD test 1 SSD test 2 SSD test 3
Cold boot to Windows login 1:22 1:24 55 23 23 23
Login to launch of Notes 1:42 1:13 1:44 10 10 10
Lotus Notes ready 40 44 40 10 10 11
Total time 3:45 3:22 3:19 43 43 44

This is crazy hot - more than 3x faster, under a minute from a cold boot.

Now certain operations don’t seem any faster. Resuming from hibernation feels to be about the same speed. This makes sense as the performance difference for sequential reads isn’t much different. It seems in normal usage, lots of little things are more immediate too. Some of this is likely simply moving from a SATA2 to a SATA3 drive, but I’m convinced no spinning platter could keep up with the SSD.