Wood Hard Drive External Case Mod

A project log using the WordPress 2.5 gallery features for a external hard drive case made out of maple, which happened to be left over trimming from the remodeling of our house. Eventually it will be stained to the same color as the trim. Note that I had wanted to post this sooner, but the WordPress flash uploader was broken. Some how it magically broke more, allowing the old uploader to show up.

-John Havlik

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Vostro 1400’s 5.1 Surround Sound

Believe it or not the Vostro 1400 does have built in 5.1 Surround Sound and can drive analog outputs for such a setup. The plug-order from left to right on the front of the laptop is front (green plug), center/sub (orange plug), rear (black plug). After plugging into the ports, go to your control panel, and open up the SigmaTel Audio panel. Under the “Jack Setup” tab right click on each of the jacks (which each should have a green check mark over if you have plugged something into them). In the pop-up menu select the appropriate setting. Then back in Control Panel go to the Sound Panel select the Speakers/Headphones option/device and click on the configure button, select “5.1 Surround” in the Audio channels list. Continue on through the setup and when done everything should work in full 5.1 surround goodness. Naturally, the on board sound isn’t as good as the sound from my X-Fi, but I don’t have the 5.1 breakout box for the X-Fi yet. Dell’s choice to place the audio jacks on the front of the Vostro isn’t the best of design choices as they get in the way of the keyboard a little bit. However, it really isn’t that bad.

I really wish all laptop manufactures would standardize on a common docking station interface which would consist of a PCI Express x16 connector plus an express card interface located in the port (plus power of course), which in the base station would allow for full sized x16 graphics card to be installed and either a normal PCI, x1 card, or express card to be installed as well, plus 4 or so USB ports on the dock. That way you can game with the laptop when docked (Geforce 9800GT anyone?) yet get the power benefits of having an IGP while mobile (I really enjoy my 5+ hours of battery life with the normal 6 cell battery).

-John Havlik

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Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio Express

A package arrived from ebay today, it was the X-Fi Xtreme Audio Express Card for my Vostro 1400. Hopefully I’ll be able to find the 5.1/7.1 extension for docking with my speakers. Sound wise, it’s much better than the on board sound, which through the internal speakers is not that great. It’s not that bad, but with external speakers the on board sound is much better, and the X-Fi is that much better. Vista didn’t automagically get things working right away (sort of disappointing since everything else just worked). Creative is now better with their driver installer as they allow just installing the driver without the other added software (read as more or less crapware). Software installation was quick and painless, required a reboot as I chose to install ALchemy. Some actual testing will occur later this weekend.

-John Havlik

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Core 2 Duo X9000

What is fast? When in Vista you double click on Firefox’s desktop icon and it’s ready to go. When Thunderbird loads just as quickly. When Visual C++ 2008 loads even quicker. When MPLAB, something that usually takes quite some time to load takes the amount of time Firefox used to take to load. Intel’s Core 2 Duo X9000 is one fast beast. It runs at a slightly higher voltage than the T5270 when powering off of the battery (1.0375V vs 1.01V), but it does correctly clock down to 1Ghz when appropriate. Vista estimates the same battery life as with the T5270. Vista’s performance checker evaluates the processor as a 5.6, up 1 whole point from the T5270’s 4.6, additionally the memory metric went up a full point to 5.0 from 4.0. The only thing holding this back now is the X3100 graphics, but the purpose is not a gaming laptop so I can deal with that. Though I must say it does run Sim City 4 quite well.

Installing the chip was easy. The thermal assembly was held on with four screws near the processor and one near the heatsink. Finding my Arctic Silver 5 took longer than replacing the processor, this was mainly due to the remodeling that we are doing. I did a quick 20 minute burn in with CPU burn-in, one process for each core, and then shut down the laptop. The performance gain was not entirely noticeable until after letting it cool down for the first time. A few more CPU burn-in cycles and that Arctic Silver will get setup for better thermal conductivity.

-John Havlik

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Vostro 1400

A week ago the Intel turbo memory module arrived, the last component that needed the keyboard to be removed in order to install. My Vostro 1400 came more or less stock with the following specs:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5270 (1.4Ghz, runs at 1.6Ghz according to CPUz and is related to the L7300) (A X9000 is on it’s way :D)
  • 2GiB DDR2-667 RAM running in Dual Channel mode (PQI brand)
  • 160GB 5400RPM Segate SATA Hard Drive
  • Dell wireless 802.11g (model DW1390) (Replaced with Intel WiFi Link 802.11abgn)
  • 56Wh Li-ion battery (up to 6hrs according to Dell)
  • Intel Robinson Turbo Memory 1GiB (Added)
  • Dell Bluetooth 2.1 (model 360) (Added)
  • 14 inch wide screen display (1280×800)
  • Intel Media Accelerator X3100 graphics

After a little over a week with this laptop, I must say Dell put together a very nice machine. When I first received it I powered it up to make sure it worked, and to see how well Dell’s wireless card worked. It wasn’t able to find my wireless network, but it found every neighbor’s network, unfortunately no one keeps their networks open anymore. Replacing the wireless card requires getting behind the keyboard, on the two Compaqs that I’ve taken apart before that required unscrewing some things on the bottom of the computer, and nothing was detailed in the user manual. Not only did the manual lay out exactly what needed to be done, two nice little green plastic tools were provided for aiding in removing the media panel. Good thing they were provided as the media panel is fairly secured and required patience in removing.

Replacing the CPU should be easy as the CPU and cooler assembly has it’s own lid, as does the hard drive and the memory. Installing the blue tooth radio was easy as everything else had been. Installing the drivers was painless, Vista did everything for me. The same was true for the Intel cards, just had to insert the Intel CD when prompted, and everything “just worked” (sounds Macish doesn’t it?). This is even on Home Basic, a version that ran slower than molasses at 5am Wednesday morning this week (It was -15 degrees Fahrenheit) on a Pentium D 2.8Ghz with dedicated graphics and 2GiB of ram.

Dell with its Vostro line, as well as with the XPS line, does not install crapware. Though I did uninstall some of the preinstalled software, Google Desktop (I don’t bother searching for things in Windows), as well as some unneeded Dell software (I’m looking at you software modem driver) I really wouldn’t count those programs as crapware (compare to what a Toshiba comes with). Vista, really is not that bad. I do not like the constant “Are you sure you want to run this” prompts, but beyond that things are very responsive, I think I’ll give Intel the credit here for their Core 2 Duo being so awesome of a chip.

I have a Western Digital Scorpio 120GB (8MiB cache) that I’ll install Gentoo onto and run KDE 4 on it as the desktop manager. This hasn’t happened yet as I’m primarily waiting to do this until spring break in March. Additionally, due to the nature of Gentoo, its advantageous for me to wait for my X9000 to arrive as it is twice as fast in clock speed alone which will really help for compile times.

Speaking of CPUs I should go a little in depth on my findings on the 1.4Ghz chip in this laptop. Even though it reports to Vista and CPU-Z as a T5270 it constantly runs out of spec for that processor. It seems to like to run with a 8.0x multiplier on a 800Mhz FSB, resulting in a speed of 1.6Ghz. Added to that, the reported CPU VID of 1.013V, which is under the 1.0375-1.3V range that it is supposed to operate under. Additionall, CPU-Z gets a bit confused as the top CPU name is claims the CPU is a L7300 (which would explain the lower voltage, but not the constant overclock). Even when running two CPU Burn-in processes, the temperature didn’t get over 30C and once the fan kicked in a bit, still nearly silent, the temp dropped to 22C. I’m going to do more tests on the processor and post results sometime during spring break. With comparisons to the X9000, it should be interesting.

-John Havlik

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