Plex Home Theater + Funtoo on Intel’s NUC DN2820FYKH

Plex is really awesome. It has a server component that I’ve had running on my home server for over a year now. There are apps for Roku, Windows 8 and Android (I have all three) which automatically find my local server and can stream from it. The Android Plex app can even act as a remote for other Android, Roku, Windows 8, and the Plex Home Theater client. Rather than dive in a try to get Plex Home Theater running on raspberrypi, I went with the new NUC DN2820FYKH.

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XPS 15 9530

While I bought an IdeaPad s405 back in June, it was never intended to replace my daily use laptop (Vostro 1400). So I was still looking for a new laptop. Even though the Dell XPS 14 ultrabook with a Haswell core would theoretically meet my requirements, such a laptop does not exist. However, the next closest thing, the Dell XPS 15 9530 (2013 edition of XPS 15) with a really sweet screen does exist.

The Hardware

The XPS 15 9530 is a high end laptop, though the model I have is not the top model. Those looking for the “professional” equivalent see the Precision M3800, it has nearly the same internals (swap the Geforce for the equivalent Quadro and it looks like the PCH in the M3800 has a heat spreader).

  • Intel Core i7-4702HQ (Quad Core 2.2GHz, 3.2GHz turbo) 37W
  • 16GiB DDR3L-1600 dual channel RAM
  • 240GB Intel 530 mSATA SSD (upgrade replaced the 32GB Micron RealSSD C400)
  • 802.11ac+bluetooth (Intel Wireless AC 7260 in M.2 form factor)
  • 500GB Samsung 840 EVO (upgrade replaced the 1TB Western Digital WD10SPCX)
  • 61Wh Li-ion battery (up to 6hrs according to Dell)
  • 15.6 display (3200 x 1800 IGZO IPS: IGZO is a substrate IPS is the pixel construction)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4600 + Nvidia Geforce GT750M

The build quality exceeds that of my other two laptops. This is to be expected given the materials (carbon fiber+aluminum+glass vs plastic), and the price. Unlike the IdeaPad s405, the XPS 15 9530 does not flex when opening the lid.

Just like the IdeaPad s405, the speakers face down, reflecting sound off the surface the laptop is resting on. Not much more to say on this one.

Performance wise, it is faster than both the Vostro 1400 and the IdeaPad s405. Again, that was expected.

Caveat Emptor

Just like the IdeaPad s405, the entire bottom of the laptop must be removed to access the internal components, including battery. Unlike the s405, opening up the laptop does not void your warranty. Additionally, Dell does provide instructions for replacing components. These are two of the biggest reasons I will continue to purchase Dell laptops.

Speaking of opening up the laptop, be warned you will need a TORX T5 driver to open up the chassis. Additionally, the XPS 15 9530 is a little tricky to get apart. While Dell does provide instructions, it isn’t very clear on how to get the carbon fiber bottom separated from the aluminum palm rest (which is where all the components are attached to). After fiddling around with it for a while, I finally figured it out. Start with one of the front corners, use a thin shim to gently separate the chassis. Then use your plastic pry tool to widen the gap, move around the rest of the front and down the two sides. Lastly, move to the back corners after you get one of them, grab onto the bottom part from the front of the laptop and pull up, the last snap should release.

While the WiFi card uses the new M.2/NGFF form factor, the SSD is connected via the old mSATA connector. This is not exactly a problem today. However, within a year M.2 will be much easier to find than mSATA (almost all new SSDs to be released in 2014 are available in M.2). If you have the 91WH battery version, that means replacing that 512GB Samsung “840 pro” class mSATA will get difficult quickly.

Other Thoughts

I still don’t like track pads. While they have grown larger, and the XPS 15 has a pretty decent trackpad. I haven’t had a chance to play with it in Linux yet, so time will tell how good it is.

The touchscreen is really awesome with Windows 8.1, with all of its gestures. Again, I haven’t had a chance to play with it in Linux yet, so time will tell how awesome it is.

The ‘BIOS’ is an UEFI interface. While it defaults to secure boot, it can be easily disabled. Unlike Intel’s NUC Kit DN2820FYKH (Bay Trail-M Celeron N2820, more on that later), the XPS 15 will happily boot non-UEFI USB thumb drives. There is an option for battery charge mode, something I haven’t seen before and will have to look into it. One option that I did not find yet was a way to disable the Nvidia Geforce GT750M from the BIOS. So, it looks like I will have to use software to disable it when Linux boots (did not want the GT750M, but I did want the better screen).

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20

Ever since getting the Panasonic Lumix GF5, I have been looking for a good camera bag for it and a few lenses. While on some trips I can get away with just the 20mm prime, there are cases when I want a zoom lens or a macro in addition. After a little searching, and asking the opinions of others, I ended up buying the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20.

Of the various options available for a mirrorless camera, the one thing that really makes the Think Tank stand out is the rain cover. While the bag is a little spendy compared to the other options out there, the extra cost can be felt in the product. It’s one of the more solidly built bag/backpack that I’ve purchased in a long time.

Size wise the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20 is about the size of an average soft ‘lunch pail’. I was able to fit my GF5+20mm, 60mm macro, 14-42mm (kit lens), and 45-175 telephoto into the Mirrorless Mover 20. I don’t see my self carrying more than that lens wise (only really missing a nice wide angle lens). Above is a picture of the lenses and camera in the Mirrorless Mover 20. The only thing I wasn’t able to fit in the Mirrorless Mover 20 was my Joby GorillaPod with the three extra lenses, remove one and it fits perfectly. Honestly, a little more efficient packing on my part would allow the GorillaPod to ride along too.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

IdeaPad s405

As mentioned previously, I am looking for a new laptop. The closest to ideal new laptop will likely be a Dell XPS 14 ultrabook when the series is refreshed with Haswell core processors. However, those are not available yet. Before heading off to WordCamp Chicago this year, I decided I would not be lugging the Vostro 1400 with me. Since Lenovo was running some pretty good outlet deals, I picked up the ideapad s405 for pretty cheap. Yes, this laptop only meets the first two requirements I set forth in “What I Look for in a Laptop”.

The Hardware

The s405 is an “entry level”/”value” segment ultrabook class laptop. However, it can’t qualify as an ultrabook as it has an AMD APU rather than Intel CPU.

  • AMD A6-4455M APU (2.1GHz, 2.6GHz turbo) 17W with HD 7500G
  • 8GiB 1.35v DDR3-1333 single channel (upgrade, more on this later)
  • 256GB Samsung 840 Pro (upgrade)
  • 802.11bgn (Ralink RT3090 based)
  • 32 Wh Li-ion battery (up to 5hrs according to Lenovo)
  • 14 inch glossy display (1366 x 768)
  • AMD Radeon HD 7500G Graphics (256 shaders, 327MHz, 424MHz turbo)

The build quality is adequate. It’s not build like a tank, unlike the Vostro 1400, but then again it is much lighter and thinner. It does flex a little when opening the lid, and will flex a little if held from either front corner.

Like a few other ultrabooks, rather than facing up at you, the speakers face down towards the surface the s405 is sitting on. This works quite well in delivering adequate sound for such a small device. This scheme delivers at least 10X better sound than that from the Vostro 1400.

Performance wise, while the A6-4455M is slower than the C2D x9000 in the Vostro 1400, it is fast enough for day to day tasks. It has no problem streaming 1080p H.264 video over WiFi (something that can’t be said about some Pentium mobile chips from only two years ago). It took about a weekend to get Funtoo up and running (with KDE4 and fglrx working), which is about right when dealing with unfamiliar hardware.

Caveat Emptor

Unlike the Vostro 1400, the s405 does not have individual compartments for accessing and upgrading components. Instead the bottom of the laptop must be removed (there are screws hidden under the rubber feet), which while not difficult is a bit of a pain when diagnosing hardware issues.

While the memory is upgradeable, not all memory is compatible. Worst of all, memory may pass several rounds of checks on memtest86 and Microsoft’s memory tester and still cause issues in the OS. Case in point, just before heading off to WordCamp Chicago I had installed a 8GiB stick of 1.35v DDR3-1600 CL11 memory (Patriot branded stick with Micron chips). While in Chicago the laptop would BSoD anywhere between 5 and 55 minutes of use (I ran Windows 8.1 while down there which isn’t a bad OS).

After returning from Chicago, I narrowed down the issue to being with the memory (replacing it with the stock memory resolved the BSoD issues). While 4GiB is probably enough memory for this laptop, I wanted more for running VMs (with Vagrant) and using for RAMdisks when compiling. Crucial happens to have 8GiB sticks of 1.35v DDR3-1333 CL9 memory that they guarantee compatibility with the s405. Thus far, it appears that the guaranteed compatible memory from Crucial is in fact compatible with the s405 (have not had any issues with it).

The s405 only supports 7mm high drives. The included 500GB WD Scorpio Blue is very slow, so it was replaced with the only 7mm drive I had on hand (a Samsung 840 pro that was supposed to go into my workstation).

Finally, for those who do not know, Lenovo (like IBM before them and HP) have device white-lists for WiFi cards. So upgrading the card in this laptop may not be easily done (will update when I have an extra mini-pcie WiFi card on hand to test).

Other Thoughts

Battery life, while more is better, and this laptop could use more, is not too bad. While waiting for my delayed flight back from WordCamp Chicago, I was able to run the s405 for 3 hours while playing music off of a SD card and writing some code and documents. This only brought the battery down to 50% (according to Windows 8.1), while I don’t think 6 hours will be the typical battery life, it should be possible.

The trackpad is nice and large, but frankly I do not like trackpads. Within Windows the Synaptics drivers do a good job at palm detection and prevent the cursor from jumping to random areas when typing. In Linux, the Synaptics drivers are pretty good, but require calibration/configuration tweaking to get the palm detection working properly.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Playing with the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro

Even since purchasing my Panasonic GF5 last winter, I’ve wanted a macro lens. Those who are familiar with the micro four thirds system know that there are only two macro lenses for it. The quite expensive Panasonic/Leica 45mm f/2.8, and the newer and slightly less expensive Olympus 60mm f/2.8. Currently, Olympus has some decently sized instant rebates on a large selection of lenses, including the 60mm f/2.8 macro, so I picked one up.

Above is a side by side comparison of the Panasonic Lumix 14-42mm, Olympus 60mm macro, and the Panasonic Lumix 45-175mm. In comparison to all the Panasonic lenses I have, the Olympus is quite narrow. This makes it look much longer in the product photos than it really is.

Below is a set of sample picture I took when playing around with the Olympus 60mm on my GF5. A few things to note, in several instances the GF5 had trouble getting the lens to focus (lots of back and forth focusing). I had better luck using manual focus mode. Additionally, the depth of field of the Olympus 60mm at f/2.8 isn’t very great. I ended up going into aperture priority mode to stop down to f/5 to get a reasonable DOF.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]