Category Archives: Hardware

Are Optical Drives Obsolete?

Optical disc drives (ODD), otherwise known as CD and DVD drives, may be going the way of the cassette tape, floppy disk, and the Zip drive. One common trait shared by most netbooks, tablet computers, mobile phones, ultra-low-cost PCs, and other small form computing devices is a lack of physical media required to operate. Where a new PC might come with a set of restore media, many of them are now being shipped with a hidden partition on the hard drive that contains everything your system needs to be restored to factory settings. This begs the question, are optical drives obsolete?

Content that has been traditionally distributed in a physical form is finding its way to digital download services allowing users to make purchases without leaving their home or waiting for a delivery. With a click of a button, you can save yourself a trip to the store and all the hassle that comes with it. While you can still purchase the vast majority of your music, movies, and games at a local retail store, the chances of distribution through physical media keeping its current pace in the next few years is slim.

Game consoles have almost always been known for having tradable, tangible cartridges or discs that contained the games with only a small amount of storage tied to the actual device for the purpose of keeping saved games. In fact, a major battle in the war between the two emerging optical drive technologies was fought between Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation. Today, they are both linked to online stores that allow the user to purchase games and download them directly to the console with no disc required.

As this trend continues, it’s unlikely that optical drives will be included on game consoles at all. The cost of distribution from the cloud is much lower that it is in retail stores. While it may be too early to say for certain that the optical drive is absolutely dead, it is certainly showing all the early warning signs of a technology that is past its prime.

Five Alternative Input Devices Used in PC Gaming

Since the GUI (graphical user interface) was first included on home computers, developers have been designing games that use the mouse to give fluid control over the gaming environment to the player. Over the past several decades, advances in input devices have given PC gamers a wide range of new and interesting methods for interacting with games. Here are five alternative input devices used in PC gaming:

3D Mouse
While this input device still carries the name mouse, it is very different from the 2D flat-surface device commonly associated with the term. Unlike its traditional cousin, the 3D mouse has the ability to pan, roll, tilt, zoom, and spin. Most of them accomplish all this while remaining stationary, without having to actually side across the desk at all. This input device is used in gaming and virtual worlds as a way to navigate the 3D environment without the barrier of a single plane of travel. It is also used in more serious 3D modeling applications. One of the more popular examples of 3D mouse technology is the SpaceNavigator by 3D Connexion.

A flight simulator just wouldn’t be the same without a joystick. Sure, you can pilot a 747, drive a tank in to battle, or take to the skies in a Sopwith Camel with your keyboard and mouse, but what’s the fun in that? The joystick has been an integral part of the overall gaming industry since before the days of arcades, and will likely be around for some time to come. Over time, these devices have evolved from simple sticks with a single button on them to ultra-realistic reproductions including force-feedback and more buttons than most games (or simulators) would even begin to utilize.

Steering Wheel
Do you fancy yourself a Nascar driver? Do you enjoy playing games like Need for Speed? The steering wheel, like the joystick, is the perfect solution for a particular kind of game. Over the years, the once simple steering wheel has become more full featured. Many of them include the gas and brake pedals and a multitude of buttons to make sure you don’t get stuck having to grab the keyboard or mouse during the game. Also like the joystick, many models of steering wheels have force feedback which gives you a physical indication that you’re driving over rough terrain, or in to a tree.

Possibly one of the most iconic symbols of video gaming is the gamepad. Often referred to as a “controller”, this handheld device single-handedly defined game control on consoles and it can be used in much the same way on PC games as well. In fact, the Xbox and PlayStation gamepads can be plugged in to a PC and used in much the same way (with a little setup). These handheld controllers often offer a combination of buttons. Directional controls, typically set on the left, are given through either a D-pad, analog stick, or combination of the two. Action commands are typically given using buttons spread across the right side and forefinger positions.

Hybrid Controllers
Potentially one of the most impressive and complex game controllers used on the PC today comes in the form of a hybrid controller. This input device generally resembles a section of a keyboard placed on a surface built especially for a single hand. It can combine aspects of a joystick, gamepad, keyboard and even a 3D mouse. Typically stationary, these devices are intended to replace the keyboard almost entirely when gaming. One example of this kind of controller is the Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard.

Would You Lease a Google Chromebook?

Google’s announcement of its Chromebook leasing plans has raised more than a few eyebrows in the tech industry. Leasing systems to educational and business institutions is nothing new, but at a price point of $20 per month for education and $28 for business for a system that offers possibly the most simple and easy to support interface designed yet, this may prove to be a difficult offer to resist. I mean, after all, would you lease a Google Chromebook?

Two versions of the Chromebook have been detailed by Google thus far. One, made by Samsung offers a 12.1″ (1280×800) 300 nit display and a mini-VGA port for an external monitor. The other, made by Acer carries an 11.6″ HD widescreen CineCrystal LED-backlit LCD and an integrated HDMI port for an external monitor. Each of these systems include pretty much the same hardware after that point. They each have dual-band wi-fi and optional 3G, 4-in-1 card readers, Intel Atom dual-core processors, full size keyboards and 2 USB 2.0 ports. The Samsung comes out ahead on promised battery life with 8.5 hours against the Acer’s 6.

Where the Chromebook has its own immediate appeal is data safety. Even if you lose the notebook entirely, your data is all stored in the cloud and you are able to reach it from any system with an internet connection and a browser. This is an eventuality that Google has been working towards for years as their list of services keeps growing in spaces previously dominated by stand-alone applications.

A close cousin to data safety is security, and the Chromebook has a few interesting solutions to possible issues of security. Each tab opened in the OS creates a virtual sandbox which keeps infected sites out of your other tabs. This is similar to the method the current Chrome and Chromium browsers use to keep program-wide crashes from occurring. Data encryption is also a factor since not all of your data (cookies, downloads, etc.) is in the cloud. Everything on the hard drive is encrypted. If all else fails, there is a hardware-backed recovery system in place that allows you to restore the machine to factory settings with the push of a button.

Updates are applied to the Chromebook as soon as it’s turned on, which may be a step in the right direction considering how quickly new threats to security and privacy hit the web. Since the OS is somewhat streamlined and lightweight, updates aren’t expected to create a significant hassle when compared to more full-featured platforms.

There are some pretty considerable downsides to the Chromebook as well. For example, stand-alone applications you may be used to on the PC or Mac will probably not work. Pretty much everything you do on the Chromebook is served up to and from the cloud, meaning that if you have any reservations about the security of the web apps you’re working with, this may not be a good choice for you. In addition, most of the features you may become accustomed to on the device will be unavailable should you be out of range of a Wi-Fi network or good 3G connectivity. Before deciding to switch to the Chromebook either on purchase or by lease, you should definitely give it a shot in a visualization environment on your current machine such as VirtualBox or Parallels first. Unless you’re willing to exist within the cloud almost entirely, then you are probably best sticking with a regular notebook or desktop with either the Chrome or Chromium browser installed.

Virtualization and remote access platforms such as Citrix can be installed and used to turn the Chromebook in to a thin client, according to Google. This means that even though you’re using the Chromebook, you may have access to non-web applications as well. Whether or not this works as effectively as it could in theory is anyone’s guess.

How Much RAM Do You Need?

Questions like this are asked all the time, and the answer has evolved greatly over the years. How much RAM do you need? Do you want to get a much as possible, or should you invest your money on another system component? Determining whether or not RAM is your system’s weak spot can be a complicated matter. Here are a few tips to help you make the decision:

For the vast majority of regular users, 4GB is plenty on a 64-bit system. If you’re still running a 32-bit version of Windows, you are stuck with an artificial limit of around 3GB and a RAM upgrade beyond that wouldn’t be a worthwhile investment.

Are you a graphics designer? Do you edit HD video? Are you a gamer? These are common situations that may cause you to consider methods for increasing your overall system performance.

One of the biggest reasons for having to consider bulking up on the RAM is if you work with big files or large amount of dynamic data. For example, Call of Duty has some large textures and maps that take up a fair amount of RAM, but a virtual world such as Second Life where massive environments are filled with hundreds of custom textures that change dynamically will likely take up a much greater amount of system memory. Video editing is a dynamic process that takes large files and shifts them around without saving each and every change to the hard drive. After editing, encoding is also heavy on RAM use.

Systems with virtual machines are generally RAM hogs. Both your primary OS and each virtual machine should have an acceptable amount of RAM dedicated for the jobs each needs to accomplish. For example, if you have 4GB and you’re running OS X with Windows 7 in Parallels, you’re going to want an upgrade unless you truly believe everything you need to do on each instance only requires 1-2 GB of RAM. 2GB is not a lot these days.

The best rule of thumb when it comes to determining where your system needs some extra care is to check the system monitors regularly. When your system is under heavy load, take a look and see how the CPU is doing in relation to memory. Is the CPU running at over 80% capacity while your RAM is cruising along just fine? This might be an indication that RAM isn’t the source of your bottleneck.

Dear Fanboys: Go Away

Do you have any idea how much I loathe the fanboy mentality? I honestly don’t care if you’re an Apple lover, a Microsoft admirer or an Android proponent – you’re all equally insane! Being a fanboy does not mean you enjoy or believe in one product more than another these days. It means that you are so insanely narrow-sighted that you cannot possibly understand that a different brand may just work better for another person – or even yourself.

Hat tip to Chu Chu for this fantastic fanboy depiction!

I had an eye on Twitter a few moments ago, and noticed that a friend was sad to realize that her three-year-old HP TouchSmart is slowly starting to fade. This has been her primary machine since August of 2008, y’all. She works from home and spends about ten hours per day – seven days each week – using the heck out of this beast. I’d say it has held up pretty well, wouldn’t you? Through blogging, Tweeting, video editing and even gaming, this setup has never let her down. Not once in nearly three years has she complained about this piece of equipment being bad, wrong, cheap or poorly made.

Wouldn’t you know it – an Apple fanboy was quick to jump down her throat in a Tweet response. His response? “That’s what you get for buying cheap crap. You should have gotten an iPad.” Fanboysaywhat? Are you serious here? Any computer that holds up for three years under intense usage – with NO upgrades or hardware changes at all – is obviously not “cheap crap” as you claim.

This is what I’m talking about. This person is so blinded by his lust for all things Apple that he has failed to realize his beloved product wouldn’t even work for what she needs. (Let’s also not forget that the iPad didn’t even exist when this particular computer became hers in August, 2008!) Would you honestly attempt to use an iPad as your main computer? If you can then kudos to you. As much as I adore my iPad 2, there is no way in hell I am going to get rid of my desktop. I’m willing to bet most of you wouldn’t, either.

Here’s a tip, fanboys: lighten up. Learn to embrace the fact that other people have different needs, wants and likes than you do. Stop harassing them and shoving your favorites down their throat each time there’s a problem with their favorite product. Guess what? Yours isn’t perfect, either.

How to Switch from Windows to Mac

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Long-time community member and contributor Lamarr has long been a die-hard Windows fan. However, as evidenced in this video, he is beginning a switch over to the other side. Whether Apple is the Dark Side or not remains to be seen. This is something Lamarr has researched and thought about for months. He is convinced that he is making the best decision for himself and his business.

That’s what it boils down to, folks – a personal decision. I cannot tell you what to buy, nor can I condemn you for your choices. Until I am paying for your devices, I’m pretty sure I have no say at all. It’s my job as a tech reviewer to give you honest feedback about the various devices and gadgets that I have bought or which have been sent to me to review. Those videos and blog posts are simply additions to the ways in which you can learn about each product for yourself. They’re not there as a means of my telling you what is the right thing for you to buy.

What’s right for me may well not be right for you. What’s right for Lamarr may not be what’s right for you. What’s right for you… well, you get the picture. This is the beautiful thing about the tech industry: we each have our own sets of desires and needs. There are millions of product out there aimed at fulfilling whatever hole it is you have in your life or business. Yes, it can be difficult at times to narrow down the choices. In the end, though, it’s your choice to make. Bashing someone for what they CHOOSE is pretty dang stupid if you ask me.

It’s a HUGE deal to have Lamarr switching over to Mac. For fifteen years, he’s built computers for himself and others – based around Windows. He didn’t hate Macs, but he admits he used to wish that they had never been created. The closed atmosphere bothered him greatly… and there were limited software choices years ago.

Lamarr’s vision of what “closed” means has drastically changed in recent years. Back in the day, it meant simply that you were limited by choices on software and portability. Today, closed (in relation to Apple) means simply that Apple controls their hardware and other features as closely as possible. Lamarr has begun to see the light – by having this control, Apple is able to deliver solid performance every single time. This also marshals protection for the users.

I commend Lamarr for making a change that he felt was necessary to move him forward. It doesn’t matter to me that he went from Windows to OS X. What matters is that he did his homework, weighed his options and decided what the best choice was for him. Hate on him all you want, Windows fanboys – but he had the guts to try something new and realize that it fit his needs better than what he had in the past.

Good on you, Lamarr!

Logitech Pro C910 Webcam Review

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The Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 promises 1080p video for Mac and Windows users. However, it’s not without shortcomings as illustrated in this combination demonstration video and review of the device.

The camera is purported to provide high-definition video up to 1080p using a wide-angle lens and auto focus. Logitech feels that it delivers picture quality which is “simply amazing.” You can video chat, blog, stream and upload to Facebook with one little tiny click. The Fluid Crystal Technology gives you smooth video style with clear images, rich colors and more:

  • Image-Perfect Tuning – World-class optics, lighting compensation and image processing make your videos, video calls and photos more breathtaking.
  • Auto Everything – Automatic adjustments for brightness, contrast, color saturation, colors, focus and face tracking make high-quality video calling and recording a breeze.
  • Internet-Ready Camera – Camcorder-quality videos, digital camera-quality stills and studio-level sound make online video sharing and communications faster, easier and more beautiful.
  • Easy Full HD video recording and sharing – Keep everyone up-to-date with stunning Full HD 1080p videos in 16:9 widescreen and publish with one click.
  • Fluid HD 720p video calling – Connect with everyone you care about in smoother HD clarity and detail.
  • Crystal-clear video and brilliant photos – Smooth autofocus and the precision Carl Zeiss pro lens keep your video calls and clips rich and sharp.
  • Sleek looks for desktops and notebooks – Flat-panel design blends nicely with your setup.

As I mentioned early on in this writeup, this device is not without its flaws. The hardware is seemingly amazing, yes. It has excellent saturation and color. The auto-focus works beautifully. Yes, I recorded in 1080p. Even though it’s high resolution, the frame rates sucks.

I’ve had nothing but issues with the software Logitech has bundled with this camera. The software is a MASSIVE fail in conjunction with a fantastic piece of hardware. I don’t understand this. It doesn’t matter how great your specs are. If the software sucks nothing else matters. I don’t get why Logitech hasn’t figured this out. Recording will randomly stop for no reason at all. I had to do more than twenty takes to get to the point I am at in this video.

We should be holding everyone’s feet to the fire when they review hardware. You have to really USE these devices before you can truly say whether it’s good or not. If someone had used this device for any length of time, wouldn’t they know that the software is a piece of garbage?

Even though I’m not happy with the way things are working out on the software side of things, I’m still seriously considering purchasing a second camera to carry with me when I travel. Quite simply, the hardware is THAT good.

Have you tried one of these out for yourself? What has your experience been like?

How to Jailbreak an Apple TV 2G

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You may have jailbroken your Apple iPhone or iPod touch, but have you thought of jailbreaking your Apple TV? Reza talks this week about doing just that. While you may be happy enough simply being able to access your iTunes content, you could be doing so much more. Jailbreaking isn’t for everyone, but Reza is dedicated to giving you the information you need to make a solid decision on whether doing this to your device is right for you. Are you getting the most out of the piece of hardware you purchased?

Reza’s Apple TV 2G is jailbroken using GreenPois0n. In order to perform this task, you’re going to need a micro USB cable. Unplug the power from the back of the Apple TV 2G and put the micro into the back and pop the USB end into your computer. Place the television into recovery mode by holding down the Menu and Play buttons together for about eight seconds. Once the little white light begins to flash, you will know you are in recovery mode and you’re able to begin your jailbreaking process.

GreenPosi0n will automagically ask if your device is the Apple TV. Once you indicate that it is – poof! You’re jailbroken. Seriously… it’s that simple. Once that process has completed, you can head into your TV and set up some custom mods and tweaks which will blow away your previous experience with the device.

The first thing you’re going to want to check out is NitoTV. This app integrates with your device seamlessly to give you a viewing experience like nothing you have ever seen before. The app allows you to play movie files in nearly any format you can think of. It even will support subtitles, which is something we’re all still hoping Apple themselves will do. NitoTV also lets you play your DVD content right from the disc, a ripped ISO or a mounted USB DVD drive. Heck, mount the ISO on your network drive and watch at your leisure.

You’ll notice that Reza has some seriously cool backgrounds on that baby. He didn’t bother grabbing anything from iTunes, of course. He used a little tool called Cyberduck. This is a fantastic FTP client for Mac OS X. Reza just SSHd into that bad boy, placed a folder in the root directory and told the machine to play those pictures as a screensaver.

Reza feels that the ability to use a Webkit-based browser puts the Apple TV on the same playing field as a Google TV. He can quickly surf the web and insert apps whenever he chooses with just a click of a button. He truly feels that by jailbreaking, the Apple offering can give its Google counterpart a serious run for its money.

The iPad 2 Cameras Suck – So What? Here’s Why.

Am I extremely disappointed that the iPad 2’s cameras appear to be as sub-par (much like the iPod touch’s)? Absolutely. Is it going to keep me from selling my iPad 1 to help fund an iPad 2 “upgrade?” No, I’ll be in line somewhere on Friday to get a Black 64GB 3G unit.

I just don’t think that the camera’s quality has anything to do with the iPad 2’s value as a “tablet computer.”

So, here are my theories as to why the iPad 2’s cameras suck:

  1. Try holding the iPad still, even with two hands, at arm’s length. It ain’t comfy, and it ain’t steady. I realize the iPad 2 is slightly lighter than the first gen, but it’s still gotta be in the ballpark of “awkward.”
  2. This is a “tablet computer” with a camera, not a camera with a “tablet computer.”
  3. The primary focus (no pun intended) for the lenses is to fuel FaceTime conversations. Given that, you really don’t need to push a massive resolution down the pike.
  4. When was the last time you complained that your notebook’s / netbook’s webcam was lacking? You likely use it for simple imaging needs, not for shooting pictures or videos – and it’s certainly not your primary digital camera option.
  5. Why spend money on slightly-better optics when you don’t need to? I’m just saying that Apple was likely to keep the price point at $500, and it knows that people are going to buy it despite camera resolution. If you could sell the same amount of devices, why spend more on hardware?
  6. A lesser-quality camera in the iPod touch has not (likely) dampened sales. Just sayin’.
  7. You gotta have a solid reason to get an iPad 3, right? Lord knows I’m ready for a better camera in the next iPhone. And, speaking of, does anybody else have an odd discoloring issue and a floating dot (pronounced more in certain photos) with the iPhone 4’s videos and photos?

I wanted to do a “top ten” list, but couldn’t get past seven points without jumping into extreme conspiratorial territory. Plus, 7 is my favorite number. Maybe you have other realistic ideas as to why Apple decided to ship the iPad 2 with lackluster imaging devices?

Or, let me guess – this is what you wanted the iPad 2 to be:

iPad 2 Release

How to Adjust Screen Resolution in Windows

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Screen resolution refers to the size of the whole image that is displayed on your monitor. It specifically refers to the number of individual pixels that are shown at once. The more pixels on your screen the more detailed your images will be. With less pixels, the elements will look larger… but there will be a lot less space on the desktop for programs to run.

Your monitor has a native resolution – unless it’s an older model. Most LCD monitors these days can display a lot of different resolutions, but the native one always looks the best. This is because that is the resolution that matches the number of pixels inside of your display. Any other resolution might look a bit distorted since the number of pixels used won’t match the actual number in the display.

However, there are times when you may need to change your resolution to make it easier for you to see properly. Our monitors have an optimal resolution setting that works best for the monitor – but it may not work best for our eyes. Changing up the resolution is a pretty simple matter, thankfully. Before adjusting the resolution settings, make sure your display drivers and monitor drivers are up to date.

To change your resolution in Windows 7, right-click on your desktop and then choose “Screen Resolution.” You will find a drop-down menu next to the word “resolution,” showing you all of the different resolutions that your monitor can support. Further down on that same screen, you will see blue words: “Make text and other items larger or smaller.” Clicking here will help you quickly and permanently adjust your font and image size to meet your vision needs. Additionally, you can temporarily change text size on a page by holding down your CTRL key and scrolling the mouse wheel in or out.

Again on that same screen, clicking on the blue words “What display settings should I choose?” takes you to a Help topic which explains each of the changes you can make in detail. This page can help you make decisions on choosing color settings, brightness and contrast settings and more.

Microsoft has put together a fantastic tutorial to show you all of the ways you can customize your Windows 7 installation to meet your particular accessibility needs.